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New Left Review 89, September-October 2014

ching kwan lee


After three decades of sustained growth China, an economic powerhouse of continental proportions, is becoming choked by bottlenecks: overcapacity, falling profits, surplus capital, shrinking demand in traditional export markets and scarcity of raw materials. These imbalances have driven Chinese firms and citizens overseas in search of new opportunities, encouraged by Beijing’s ‘going out’ policy. Their presence in Africa has drawn a vast amount of attention, despite the fact that the prc only accounts for a tiny fraction of foreign direct investment there—4 per cent for 2000–10, compared to 84 per cent for the Atlantic powers. [1] A 2013 unctad report ranks China as the sixth largest source of investment in Africa by accumulated stock—behind France, the us, uk, Malaysia and South Africa—and fourth by flow, behind France, the us and Malaysia, at the end of 2011. Analyzing central bank data from 40 African countries, African Economic Outlooks confirms that the eu and the us contributed about 85 per cent of fdi to Africa from 2000–05, and 83 per cent from 2006–10. The author would like to acknowledge the funding for this research provided by the National Science Foundation of the United States. In the ensuing rhetorical battle, the Western media has created the spectre of a ‘global China’ launching a new scramble for Africa, while Beijing for its part claims simply to be encouraging South–South cooperation, free of hegemonic aspirations or World Bank-style conditions. These seemingly opposed positions, however, share the implicit assumption that Chinese investment is qualitatively different from conventional foreign investment. What, if any, is the peculiarity of Chinese capital in Africa? What are the consequences of China’s presence, and what prospects does it offer for African development?

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Ching Kwan Lee, ‘The Spectre of Global China’, NLR 89: £3

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