Saturday, January 26, 2013

Link of the Day: How Operating in South Africa Helped a Chinese Company Sharpen its International Capabilities

After putting up this link on twitter concerning Chinese tourists and South Africa, I received a message from Conrad Chua, head of MBA admissions at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School. He pointed me to this podcast where he interviews Yolanda Yue, a MBA student who worked for a Chinese company in South Africa. Yolanda has a quite interesting story about her transfer from Shenzhen to Johannesburg for roughly six years, where she dealt with telecom operators in South Africa and other African countries. The discussion touches on a range of issues, for me the most important being the improving African perceptions of Chinese companies; and that Chinese companies, in dealing with European subsidiaries in Africa, learn how to internationalize in both continents. Short and sweet, it is a great listen.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mali, the Chinese Military, and the Chinese People

EDIT: Some of the translations could be better, thanks to Kaiser Kuo for catching that, and the error was mine for not reading properly. I also modified the ending.

Tendai Musakwa put up another must-read translation on the China Africa Project, this time detailing what some in the Chinese military think about France's intervention into Mali, as well as the Chinese netizen reaction.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Are Relationships Between Individual Chinese and Africans Worsening?

Camilla Carabini, a journalist at FIRSTonline who studies Chinese investments in Africa, retweeted one my updates and changed the language in a way that I found interesting:  

"RT:@Winslow_R Interesting video on #ChinaAfrica - Relationship at individual level btw Chinese & natives are worsening"

The funny thing is that, after watching the video, I thought that relations were set to improve.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Link of the Day: Sweet and Sour: China in Africa, Beyond the Headlines

Sino-Africa scholar Deborah Brautigam has an interview with the University of Melbourne's Up Close program about her research. This caught my eye:
Yes, you’ve written about these infrastructure projects, promised but not delivered and they are getting beyond the memorandum of understanding, it's not always an easy thing. (Emphasis mine)
Exactly. Now, I would caution though about calling these promises or pledges. What we are talking about is a long series of negotiations for any kind of project, whether it's an investment or something that will be financed by a Chinese bank. So there's an initial memorandum of understanding and one expert who works on these issues, not just with regard to China but in Africa more generally, says that only about 3 per cent of any memorandum of understanding ever reach completion and actually become a project. So we are talking about a lot of companies, a lot of banks going around and having initial discussions about something and saying, yes, we are interested, but then getting to the final point where something actually happens is very difficult. One of the reasons is that these products demand feasibility studies. The Chinese bank doesn’t want to actually put the money up until it sees whether or not the project can repay the loan. So this has happened over and over again, the Chinese do a feasibility study and then they go, hmm, this product doesn’t look quite as profitable as it did in the beginning and we don’t think we are going to finance it or we don’t think we are going to invest in it and that's natural. That actually happens all the time and it happens all the time with western companies but it just doesn’t get the headlines because nobody is tracking western interest the way they are tracking Chinese interest. So it seems as though the Chinese are making promises and then not following up but I think it is much more realistic to look at this as the natural progression of negotiations on any kind of project. (Emphasis mine)
The lesson to be drawn here is we need to be sceptical about such agreements actually turning into projects. (Emphasis mine)
Yes, and that's not a new thing. It's not a new thing for the Chinese. It's not a new thing for us but we can't take a headline as an actual project and that's a point I would like to drive home. (Emphasis mine)
Also, if you are on twitter, I heartily recommend following Anne Sherman (@annesher07) who took some great photos of Guangzhou and it's African population and put them up on her instagram. Sherman is a Sino-Africa expert in her own right and the Social Media Manager for the The China Africa Project.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Link of the Day: From the Yellow River to the Nile

The Centre for Chinese Studies (CCS) at Stellenbosch University recently put up this Guest Column by Su Junxia of Humboldt University and Daniel Krahl at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. It is part of a series highlighting the diversity of Chinese people in Africa. This particular piece is looking at the following:
China’s relationship with Africa is often reported on as a story of big investors ranging from state owned enterprises to entrepreneurs. However, the Chinese coming to Africa are increasingly diverse. In the first of a five part series, the authors look at the phenomenon of Chinese Muslims coming to Africa. Muslims in China are normally seen as disadvantaged. African countries with strong Muslim communities seem to offer a rare advantage to them over their non-Muslim compatriots. Cairo often serves as the gate of entry for Chinese Muslims into Africa, and the key is the Arabic language. (Emphasis mine)
The article begins by describing Fatima, a
... a young Muslim, or Hui, woman from Gansu Province and is distinguished from other female Chinese immigrants in Cairo by wearing the Muslim Hijab. She has been studying Arabic for the last two years at the language school of Al-Azhar University, in Cairo’s Abbasiya district. Abbasiya is one of the two areas in Cairo that could come closest to being a so called ‘Chinatown’. Most of the Chinese here are Muslim, predominantly from China’s north-west, studying Arabic at the world’s most famous Islamic university. Here you find the best examples of food from China’s north-western provinces, especially the typical noodles from the city of Lanzhou. (Emphasis mine)
It goes on to detail some of the general experiences of a Chinese population that, by dint of religion, is consciously looks outward to foreign lands if not always accepting foreign ways:
Many Chinese Muslims express their appreciation for living surrounded by their own religion for the first time. They do however often complain that Egyptian Muslims appear more conservative on the surface, but that they do not take their religion as seriously as Muslims in China. Even if there is a religious bond, most Hui are as convinced that they will return to China at a certain point, as basically all their non-Muslim compatriots in Africa. Even those who study religion in Al Azhar often do this to work as Imams in China after their return. However, having mastered the language also offers them opportunities in the wider north-African region.
One example of this is Mark; he finished his studies in Cairo and went to Khartoum where he started to work in a furniture company. Now he oversees a dozen local workers. He enjoys Sudanese society, particularly the piety, which he thinks both Egyptian and Chinese mainstream societies lack. Nevertheless, he still thinks that the main advantage of his cultural affinity to the region is commercial and that north-Africa is just a stepping stone for a career back home.
Regardless of their religion, Chinese find integration into Egyptian society difficult. Fatima says that nearly all of her friends in Cairo are Chinese. When asked about Egyptian friends, she says she has almost no contact with them and does not like to deal with them. Like many Chinese (and Egyptian women), she complains about the ill treatment of women in Egypt and agrees with the view of many other Chinese in Cairo, who often describe the locals’ behaviour as ‘uncivilised’... (Emphasis mine)
The piece was quite fascinating and should be read in full. I look forward to seeing what Krahl and Su produce for the future!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Link of the Day: China’s Netizens Call for Military Action in Sudan

My former colleagues at the China Africa Project have found a dynamite translator/contributor in Tendai Musakwa to replace my output. He just put up this piece that lists some of the Weibo reactions to the January 12 kidnappings of Chinese company employees. Here are some quotes I found interesting:
_lillian:Pray for our fellow countrymen! China gives too much aid to Africa; self-examination, self-examination please. Africans in China fuck Chinese women, disturb the social order and take advantage of our generosity without giving anything in return. Policy should change with different dynamics, don’t just keep on giving aid. (Jan. 13 21:19) 
Finn1007: Chinese people’s passports have a statement that instructs them to not stir up trouble while abroad. Americans’ passports, on the other hand, say that America will always be behind you. This is one of the reasons why Chinese people are always bullied when they are abroad. (Jan. 13 21:21) 
武汉伢在成兜: I hope you are safe and sound comrades in arms! This makes me think of that scene on March 1, 2011 when my colleagues safely came back to the country from Syria [tear]. They took a boat ride from Syria to Tunisia and then the government arranged a flight for them from Tunisia to Guangzhou Baiyuan airport through Urumqi. It was difficult. I’m thinking of my colleagues who are abroad [flag] (Jan. 13 21:38) 
76年小叔:Send troops like Western countries do. (Jan. 13 22:07) 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Reading: China and Africa

NOTE: I have personally met both Ambassador Shinn and Joshua Eisenman and, on top of that, find them to be wonderful people. I also know that they spent six years researching this monograph. All of these are, unfortunately, going to color my review of their work.

If you are interested in Sino-African relations, perhaps you have wondered if there is any definitive text to not only give an overview of the relationship but also the historical background. There are actually many excellent works that do either or both. However, Shinn and Eisenman's China and Africa: A Century of Engagement gives

In short, you should drop whatever you are doing and find a way to get this book (Click here to learn how to get a 20% discount on ordering the book online.

I have yet to draw up the materials for a more complete review (which should be done by the end of the week), but here are a few things that caught my eye:

  • This is the best-researched Sino-Africa text I have ever read. Usually, when I read an article or book on the subject, I am pretty familiar with the English language sources whenever I scan the footnotes or endnotes. That is not to say that people do shoddy research, quite the contrary, as some of the sources can be hard to get. However,  a good amount of research has been done on the subject (one of the benefits of the Cold War is that the U.S. and Europe would pay for all sorts of normally esoteric research, which Sino-African relations might qualify as) and been mined for information. In the case of Shinn and Eisenman's research though, I had never encountered a good half of their citations before, which is fairly unusual. Their use of declassified U.S. cables I found particularly useful. I am not looking forward to carrying the mountain of sources they cited just to keep up with them.
  • This has the best historical overview of Sino-African relations I have ever read. Case in point, they mention Republican China's relations with the African continent. Having spent months gathering material on pre-1949 Chinese relations with Africa, I know how hard it can be to find this information. Kudos to them.
  • They pull off the country-by-country analysis. When I first met both authors and they mentioned that they were trying to look at Sino-Africa relations country by country, I was stunned. It would take a large team of dedicated scholars years to pull off such a feat. Somehow, they did it. Starting on chapter 8, they look at individual countries in different regions of Africa. Though each description is seldom more than a page, it is quite informative and packed with endnotes for future study. If you want to know a brief overview of country X's dealings with China and where to look further, this book is invaluable.
  • Their analysis of Sino-African relations is nuanced and balanced. In fact, they actually do a great job of identifying which scholars fall in the "optimist" and "pessimist" camp. This is the sort of sober, neutral analysis (if such a thing is possible) that is sometimes missing from the overall discussion.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Link of the Day: Commentary in China Daily

On Friday, Ambassador David Shinn wrote this on his blog
The government-controlled China Daily asked me to comment on the sate of China-Africa relations. The editors accepted my contribution and published it on 11 January 2013 with one deletion and added their own title of "A Developing Tale of Success". The deletion concerned my assertion that Chinese traders in Africa are facing increasing criticism from their African counterparts.
Recently, the Chinese state has looked less than stellar in terms of censorship. I found it interesting that, in trying to appeal to foreign audiences, the Chinese media actively sought an oped from someone who does not believe China's relationship with Africa is completely "win-win". 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Link of the Day: Learning Local Work Customs...

Learning Local Work Customs Would Save Chinese Bosses Headaches - Global Times by John Gachiri
So any foreigners coming to work in the country would be foolish to try anything that had the slightest tinge of racism.

With that crash course, let us go back to the Chinese in Kenya.

The only insight that has come out has been courtesy of the rumor mill about a Chinese manager at a media station who is being stingy with employee per diems.

Nevertheless, I sought to find the truth from two friends who worked for Chinese firms in the IT and construction industries.

Both have quit, and say that working with the Chinese was one of the most difficult undertakings they took.

Paul, a quantity surveyor, says that his seven-month stint was frustrating due to the language barrier and different work cultures.

There was a cordial relationship between him and the senior managers who were more traveled and exposed. But it was not the same for the lower cadre staff.

He says the foremen, for lack of a better word, were not refined.

"They used to scream and yell (at the Kenyan porters). I understand that at times you have to do work but as a Kenyan I felt bad," says Paul.

He doesn't know if that is how they treat workers in China, but it is not acceptable here, he says.

They also spoke very little English, a major source of frustration because it makes everyone's life difficult...

Two things I noticed:
  • The difference in Chinese management style based on experience. While the Chinese are often seen as ruthless supervisors, Paul saw that not every manager is the same. It appears that certain Chinese individuals are finding another way to manage their African staffs, which bodes well for the future.
  • I did not expect the language issue to be that important and I am not sure just how willing Chinese managers are to learn another language before going overseas. Seasoned managers probably do not have as much of a problem, though.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Juxtaposition: Chinese Media and Africa

Here are three stories I read about today. Not the most auspicious timing.

China Expands Media Reach in Africa - Deutsche Welle
In the first six months of 2012 alone, China invested $45 billion (34 billion euros) in Africa, while Sino-African trade has tripled in the last three years. Now, the Asian giant is seeking to make a name for itself in the African media sector by investing in modern technologies and giving scholarships to African journalists to work in China. 
Mary Harper, author and Africa expert with the BBC, said China's growing influence in the media sector is a "natural progression." 
"If you look at China in the past few years, it looks at Africa as a giant resource and it's now Africa's biggest trading partner - it's replaced the West," she told DW.
Face-Off in a Beijing Newsroom: An Insider’s Account - China Real Time Report - Wall Street Journal
Fallout from a high-profile conflict over censorship between Chinese propaganda officials and journalists at Southern Weekly, one of China’s most daring newspapers, has spread to sister newspaper Beijing News, which lost a dramatic stand-off with authorities late Tuesday night over the reprinting of an editorial that was harshly critical of Southern Weekly.  
The Beijing News’s publisher, Dai Zigeng, and editor-in-chief, Wang Yuechun, threatened to resign over authorities’ insistence that the paper publish an editorial from the nationalist-leaning tabloid Global Times that said supporters of Southern Weekly’s clash with censors were being actively supported by overseas human-rights activists.
China’s first institute for African media research established at the Communication University of China [TRANSLATION] - China Africa Project, December 10, Beijing — This morning, China’s first institute for African media research — the Africa Communication Research Center — was declared open in the lecture hall of the New Library at the Communication University of China. 
The President of the Communication University of China Su Zhiwu and the Ethiopian Ambassador to China Seyoum Mesfin jointly opened the center. Representatives from the embassies of South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Angola were also present at the ceremony. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

South-South Cooperation Part 1

Here are two stories that made me think of 'South-South Cooperation,' I phrase and idea of which I am deeply skeptical, but that is a tale for another day.
  • Kathleen McLaughlin has been doing phenomenal work over at the Pulitzer Center looking at Chinese foreign health aid to Africa. I urge you to read every piece on the site. She looks at a very complicated set of issues with nuance and gets gets some great quotes from actors on the ground, exemplified in "Malaria: The Core of Every Ugandan Pharmacist's Business." I loved this piece for how it turned the narrative away from simply 'fake Chinese drugs' vs 'real wholesome (probably American) drugs' and instead tried to look at the issue of malaria more holistically. I mused a few days ago whether McLaughlin thinks China would respond to some of the fake drug criticism, and she herself answered me by linking to a piece she wrote which demonstrated Chinese officials are definitely thinking about the problem. As she says "Perhaps acknowledgement of the problem by official China, even in the form of defensiveness and denials, could lead to some changes. At the very least, we know they're talking about it." Agreed. One of the things I admire about China's interaction with African peoples is that they acknowledge (though not admit, necessarily) when things could be better. 
The scandal involves US-listed technology company Agilent Technologies, which had been accused of bribing Zhang with sex service provided by male sex workers in a high-end Beijing club, said media reports. Some of the escorts were reported to be African.
    In my experience, it is rather rare for a Chinese woman to enter into romantic relationships with black Africans. Out of the subset of Chinese women even willing to date a foreigner, which itself is rather small (no matter what some Fenqinq might say), there is but a tiny fraction of women who would even consider being with a black man, let alone a black African without the perks of an American or British passport. Obviously I am only speaking from anecdotal evidence, so feel free to correct me if I am wrong. So when I read that this woman was being tempted with sexual services from Africans, I felt that this was probably the most progressive instance of South-South Cooperation I was going to read for a while. That, or it was racialized slut-shaming.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Personal: Go West, Young Man

As of late I have written some rather negative stories about the ways Chinese and African peoples interact. I would like to switch gears.

Earlier today, I had the pleasure of reading an email from a Chinese friend of mine, who was a former student when I was an English teacher in China. We have been discussing possible future educational paths to the United States or Canada. During one of our discussions, I told him that, with his excellent English (which I had almost no hand in, as his language skills were the result of a combination of great teachers, caring parents, and his own motivation) he may try his hand at translating. He found the idea irresponsibly optimistic because, as a high-school student, what person would pay him to translate? I countered that there were a lot of Chinese firms operating in Africa who were desperate for translators who were not afraid of living on the continent. I also said that the experience would look great on a college application to the United States or Canada, for he would probably be the most distinctive Chinese applicant. Today, I learned that he found a part-time job that may have him go to Africa as a translator if his supervisor wants to do business on the continent. I could not be prouder. I do not know how many young, talented, and open-minded Chinese there are who would contemplate a similar move, but I wish all of them the best of luck. These are the sorts of people who, I believe, will create a better future for Sino-African relations.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Translation Tuesday: 安哥拉元旦守夜活动发生踩踏事件致10人死亡 (10 People Killed in Angolan New Year's Day Vigil Stampede)

10 People Killed in Angolan New Year's Day Vigil Stampede
2013年01月02日03:21 新华网 评论

Xinhua Luanda, January 1 (Wang Bingfei reporting) Angolan National Fire Department spokesman [Faustino] Sebastiao announced on January 1, that the a stampede occurred on on the evening of December 31 2012, during the New Year's Day vigil held in Hedo Della Stadiumin. located in the Angolan capital of Luanda, resulting in 10 deaths and 120 people injured.
新华网罗安达1月1日电(记者 王丙飞) 安哥拉国家消防局发言人赛巴蒂奥1月1日宣布,去年12月31日晚在首都罗安达希达德拉体育场举行的元旦守夜仪式上发生了踩踏事件,造成10人死亡,120人受伤。

Sebastiao said the dead included six adults and four children, most of whom died from being trampled and suffocation, and there are also 120 injured, with 12 people sent to Luanda's major hospital for treatment.

According to Angolan media reports, the stampede occurred about 7:30 p.m. local time on December 31 2012, when a large number of Luanda residents rushed to Hedo Della Stadium to participate in the New Year's Day vigil organized by a church, and as they opened the doors to the stadium it caused a stamped. The organizers expected 70,000 people to participate in the vigil, but the actual attendance was well over 70,000, and details from the event are still waiting verification.

(Original Title: Angola New Year's Day Vigil Stampede Kills 10 People)