Review on Chris Alden’s book “China in Africa”

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Review on Chris Alden’s book China in Africa[1]

What is China’s position and intentions in the African continent? In his book China in Africa, Chris Alden, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the London School of Economics, intends to answer this question by analyzing the recent developments of the Sino-African political and economical relations. He approaches the subject from a variety of different perspectives in order to arrive to a complete and objective conception of what was, what is and what will be of the relationship between China and the different African States.

The author goes back to the Medieval Ages, intending to give a whole picture of the different contacts between these two regions in the past in order to clarify the contemporary situation. He analyzes the different theories and questions around China’s intentions in Africa: if China should be considered a “partner”, a “competitor” or a “colonizer” for and of the African continent and how China’s primary relation with the African continent is that of exploitation of the natural resources while introducing Chinese products into the African market. He then goes on to expose Africa’s political and social responses to China’s arrival in the continent: the ambivalent thoughts of both the States and the civil populations in relation to China’s effects on their land. Lastly, the West’s reactions (especially of the United States and France) and their influence on the Sino-African relations are studied, showing how China is slowly taking the diplomatic and economic hegemony in Africa, while having to take measures in social responsibility in order to achieve at least their minimum legal obligations.

Alden has been very methodical and concise in the book’s structure and content. He opened with an introduction that proposed questions, which would be studied from different perspectives and points of view throughout the entire book, in order to, finally, conclude with a systematic response to each of the problems posed in the past chapters. Even though it is a subject that would normally require knowledge in Economics, International Relations and a wide technical vocabulary, the author is able to explain it in a simple way, making it easy to understand for the general public: he gives plenty of examples, the figures and charts are extensively clarified and explained, and the technical vocabulary is put in plain words. The book does not go into details in many subjects, concentrating mainly in the study of the African countries that have big and important relations with China, but takes into account some perspectives that are sometimes ignored in economical or international relations studies, such as the effects of the arrival of China into the African continent in a microscopic point of view: the thoughts and actions of the plain people (not governments or big multinational corporations), the day by day relations between Chinese and Africans and the effect of this social merge.

Concluding, the author has given a relatively objective resume on the subject. He has intended to explain the different theories and perspectives on this issue without including his personal opinions in excess. What is concluded and affirmed, it is done by the study of numbers, facts and decrees, and not by subjective assumptions. He leaves, then, the future of Sino-African relations open into question, waiting for history to explain itself.


[1] Alden, C., China in Africa, Zed Books, London 2007.

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