Defense office of Communist Chinese capitalist studies
growing role in Africa over the past decade-or-so has raised some eyebrows. Questions surrounding
China's motives for investment abound: Are they purchasing U.N. votes? Simply extracting natural resources? Expanding the rhetoric of revolution, as it did in the 1960s?
most of these questions presuppose state-led investment in Africa. Xiaofang
Shen, a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University SAIS China Studies
Program and former investment climate specialist at the World Bank, said in a
recent talk at SAIS that the more notable increase over the past decade
has been the rise in Chinese private-sector investment on the continent.
Chinese private investment in Africa was negligible; by the end of 2011, there
were 879 private companies and OFDI projects registered with the Chinese
Ministry of Commerce. Contrary to the image of state-led extraction, Chinese
entrepreneurs focus their energies mainly on manufacturing and service
industries. They increasingly are forging relationships with local management,
and aware of the value of learning local customs, religions, and languages.
what does this mean for the West? Interestingly enough, Chinese private
investment in Africa may be a hat tip to Western models of development and
governance: Xiaofang Shen's study finds that going overseas to do business was much easier for up-and-coming Chinese
entrepreneurs than starting a business in inland China.
Most of China's industry grew up in the 1980s
and 1990s, with little-to-no regulation. By contrast, many African laws (at
least on paper) were copied and/or imposed by the West through such mechanisms
as Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). As a result, Chinese entrepreneurs
find African processes more conducive to business, from obtaining licenses and
navigating the bureaucratic process to trusting that the food they eat for
lunch is safe. African governments face higher incentives to improve
infrastructure and devote resources to political stability and regulatory
efficiency in order to attract capital -- precisely the same goals reflected in