"China’s Second Continent” by Howard W. French

AUTHOR: Howard W. French

AUTHOR: Howard W. French

When looking into the world of international relations, it is hard to ignore how the world has changed. We are no longer confined to borders of our birth place. We are incredibly privileged to have the freedom to move around, to relocate, to start elsewhere, and to call a stranger land our homes. So what happens when a million migrants go abroad? How does migration change the environment? How does migration impact policy and economies? How is migration good for the world?

As a very interesting case study on the mobilisation of people, trade and diplomacy, we recommend the book “China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants are Building a New Empire in Africa” by Howard French. This book is recommended as further reading to support Chapter 2 “Fit for a Global Profession” to help shape your thinking about the global impact migration has on diplomatic relations and the world economy. Howard French is an award-winning foreign correspondent who has worked in Shanghai, Central and East Africa, and offers a human face of China’s economic, political and human presence across the African continent.

Despite China and the African continent having very different cultures, languages and politics, Africa has become China’s main interest. The interest isn’t exclusively from the Chinese government, but from the Chinese people themselves who have been reported to find more opportunities in the African continent then in their homeland. Over the past decade, many Chinese nationals decided to emigrate to parts of Africa in pursuit of a better life which inevitably leads to cultural changes in African countries. Over the past two decades, 40% of the world’s economic growth has come from China alone. Today, China is the fastest-growing economy in the world and had been spreading its “Made in China” products since the 1970s and is now stepping up as a major player in international politics. Sadly, economic progress hasn’t improved the lives of the Chinese people and have left many people frustrated by intense social pressures placed upon them. The social system, such as the one-child policy, is highly unfavourable by the people, even if it is a means to control overpopulation in the country. French has recorded many accounts and interviews of Chinese dissidents who felt moving abroad would help them get ahead in their personal lives. Rapid growth of the Chinese population means finding a new home, and that new home became the continent of Africa.

Rapid growth, however, presents new problems. Corrupt governments are unlikely to help their countries develop smoothly, leading to high risks of unemployment, hunger and poverty if urban development. It is also likely that large companies can exploit rapid growth by underpaying its staff without any legal repercussions. The author points out how the Chinese government being aware of these ‘potentials’ is the reason why the government has been strengthening its ties to the continent since the mid-1990s. He tells stories of how Jian Zemin, China’s head of state in 1996 began courting Africa for greater Chinese-African cooperation and promised to send $5 billion in aid to develop schools, hospitals and public institutions. When you look at China’s commitments in Africa today, we will see that nearly one-third of China’s total revenue comes from Africa through its investments and influences.

The author also points that the Chinese government is not solely responsible for China’s growth in Africa. It is also the people themselves, an area that is often ignored in international relations. Chinese people living in Africa have built a strong network of contacts and encouraging other Chinese to relocate. Africa is being seen as their only hope for many Chinese suffering from social deterioration. Chinese immigrants who also marry into the society have major influence on the locals, and these people are the main diplomats for their home country. However, it is important to point out that Chinese immigrants are not openly welcomed into African societies and many Africans have started to complain about Chinese migrants taking over their livelihood. Society, as seen in other countries, is becoming tailoured to Chinese communities with Chinese shops and workers. There have also been cases where African citizens have held political protects in fear that the Chinese are colonising them, causing social tension between the two groups.

Such social tension inevitably leads to prejudice, stereotyping and lack of basic respect, and certain prejudices have existed for a number of reasons. French notes that many Chinese migrants are uneducated and have little interest in the host culture, lacking basic knowledge about African countries they are living in and creating pseudo societies to emulate the feeling of home. Having little knowledge of the language also creates problems. However, ignorance is a two way street and French emphasises the point that many locals see the Chinese as conquerors, stealing resources without investing back into society. For instance, the author notes that many Chinese businesses conduct their operations with little or no involvement with local people. When opportunities do arise, Africans are given smaller wages than the Chinese. Chinese migrants in countries like Zambia have provoked a lot of hatred and these can be looked into further detail in French’s book. He also has case studies of the treatment of African workers and businesses in Mozambique, Mali, Liberia and Senegal that further illustrates tensions between the two communities.

When you think of colonise, we often have images of forced entry as conducted by Britain and France. The Chinese government is taking a different route to Africa, making back door deals with corrupt officials leaving very little benefit to the people directly. This means deliberately blocking out NGO involvement and other organisations that look to protect the interests of local people. Furthermore when foreign projects are completed on African soil, migrant workers are returned home leaving local people with shoddy projects that are difficult to repair as they are unfamiliar with foreign techniques and technology. Africa’s dependence on China also means that African governments and companies will continue to accept corrupt deals, slowly increasing its control and expanding its power.

Irrespective of these tensions, both Africans and Chinese recognise each other’s economic and political power, particularly from a government point of view. The relationship between Africans and Chinese is one to certainly keep an eye on, particularly when considering our fit in the world and how to create robust relationships that empower the people instead of keeping governments corrupt.

“China’s Second Continent” is recommended for the purposes of the Diplomatic Planner. The Diplomatic Planner is a 12-month career development for diplomacy and internationals for professionals looking to explore or grow their expertise in the field. Both books are available for purchase via Amazon. For further recommendations, insights, case studies and practicable worksheets, please join the Grassroot Diplomat Online Academy via: www.grassrootdiplomat.org/register