Li Zhibiao 李智彪
in West Asia and Africa (西亚非洲) No. 06, Pages 112-128 December 2014.
Reviewed by Veda Vaidyanathan (Ph.D. Student, University of Mumbai; ICS-HYI Doctoral Fellow)
This article appeared in the journal West Asia and Africa (西亚非洲), published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The article is exceptionally ambitious in that it tries to address several themes, across multiple national landscapes, each of which is complicated enough that it requires individual examination. That said, the questions raised are incredibly important, observations made are pertinent and the arguments put forth are compelling, all of which makes this article important for anyone vaguely interested in the subject and a must-read for scholars in the area.
The foundation of the article is laid in the understanding that with the gradual shrinking of the world’s non-renewable energy resources, matters pertaining to energy have become strategic issues that could potentially challenge the stability and security of states. However, the general tone of the article, from start to finish, urges caution and re-evaluation of Chinese interests in African energy instead of plunging in. For instance, although it begins with the fact that China and countries of Africa are natural partners in the energy sector—by virtue of the fact that the former has relatively low domestic energy sources but overcapacity in energy production and the latter is energy rich but suffers from supply shortages—it is quick to point out that there are several underlying conflicts obstructing full-fledged cooperation.
According to the article, many of these ‘conflicts’ arise out of Africa—its low oil production rates and lack of development of the energy sector compared to other energy producing mammoths, its uneven geographic distribution of reserves, its dependence on energy imports among others. It brings forth several arguments which explain the surge in China’s energy cooperation despite these concerns. However, it also looks closely at particular aspects of Sino-African energy cooperation such as huge hydropower projects and spells out the reasons why China’s own experience in hydropower development since its reform cannot be duplicated in Africa. The article repeatedly emphasizes the need to exercise caution and to develop a long-term national energy security strategy. It drives home the point that while China’s energy dependence increases, Africa emerges as an energy hub and there are several ways for Beijing to alter its existing energy cooperation methods towards African nations to make it more ‘mutually beneficial’.
What makes this article stand out is that the arguments made do not get lost in generalizations as it is careful not to treat Africa as a monolith. However, given the sheer variety of issues it has tried to address and mention, the larger points are sometimes lost in the details. Nevertheless, in the study of China’s relations with Africa, this article is an important piece of literature because although it focuses entirely on energy relations, it also captures the broader trends in the engagement of these two entities and the challenges that come with it.