Thursday, November 14, 2013

Attending: China and the Chinese in Africa: What do we know?

The great thing about doing Africa-China stuff and living in D.C. is that there are more Sino-Africa events going on here per capita than any other city in the world (Note: I have no way of proving that statement). In that vein, I got a last minute invitation to a talk hosted by the Fletcher Women's Network on November 5: China and the Chinese in Africa: What Do We Know? This talk featured what I like to call the two triangles of the D.C. China-Africa Triforce: Prof. Deborah Brautigam and Dr. Yoon Jung Park! This event was a must-attend: Not only is it a treat to hear Dr. Park wax lyrical about all things China-Africa, I had been trying to meet Prof. Brautigam since March!

Anyways, I managed to livetweet some of it, and I wanted to share what I wrote:

To those who think China has a master plan for Africa:
Some other general observations:

Dr. Park's turn:
She starts with some history:

Then she moves onto the numbers (or lack thereof):

Stories from her research! About labor!

Chinese prisoners, you say?


After that last tweet, my phone had around 6% power so I had to shut it down. Tragedy! It was not that major a loss, as Dr. Park was winding down her fascinating discussion and the question and answer session opened up.

Some observations:
  • The first question flipped the Chinese-in-Africa narrative to ask about Africans in China, a topic of which both speakers knew a respectable amount. They recommended the questioner visit
  • Prof. Brautigam recently read a Wall Street Journal/Rand Corporation oped that did not terribly impress her. Lo and behold, someone from Rand was at the talk to ask her a question, though he had nothing to do with the piece in question. He wanted to know more about the differences between the Chinese state and other Chinese actors in Africa, which is a really important point. There is no one China in one Africa. The Chinese state is very aware of how the actions of some Chinese reflect on the Chinese state as a whole, as demonstrated by Dr. Park's fantastic mimicking of any given Chinese ambassador in an African country's reaction when asked about Fujianese migrants (note this image may be a tad exaggerated). Still, it should be emphasized that Chinese state organs do emphasize following local laws when traveling overseas.
  • I asked a question that piggy-backed on the prior one about the interaction between official China and unofficial China, and Prof. Brautigam said that every country has a coalition of Chinese businesses that try to help the Chinese community (A think it is called the Chinese Business Association?). Though a lot of it was pushed by the SOEs initially, private companies have joined as well and it has apparently served as a great tool for both the Chinese state and Chinese individuals to interact with each other. Most of the time, the only way the Chinese state interacts with Chinese citizens in Africa is when the latter are in trouble, and Chinese embassies are notorious for allegedly doing nothing when asked. Anyways, if I recall correctly, it was the South Africa Chinese Business Association that helped tell Chinese shopkeepers to lay low during the 2008 xenophobic violence in South Africa.
  • When I asked my question, Prof. Deborah Brautigam called me "the famous Winslow." Woot!
  • While we know stuff about the Africa-China relationship, there are a lot of things that we do not know. Be suspicious of numbers!

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