This chapter contains a more extended review of China-Africa relations in the context of the predominant theories of International Relations and International Political Economy. The framework will underpin the analysis of the examples in the following chapters and clarify the theoretical premises of the sets of answers to the research questions. This will enable the study to incorporate the specific set of Mozambique-China relations into a theory so that one can understand and explain its place within a larger structure of events. In the process, it will be possible to put forward a set of useful concepts of development and the assumptions being made for the purposes of the argument. It is usually a desirable premise that “there are no innocent definitions or starting points (Brown 2001: 17)”. Given this, a set of the major theoretical frameworks will now be put forward in order to better understand the research focus.
Literature on China-Mozambique will be divided into that understanding China as: a coloniser, a development partner or an economic competitor. Bringing the core arguments of International Relations to the China-Africa debate will offer an additional insightful set of perspectives. Neo-Realism tends to be suspicious of China’s political intentions in Africa. Cox’s (1996) and Susan Strange’s (2004) frameworks also provide warnings about China but for different reasons. Neo-Liberalism in turn, points to some important dangers of the engagement, but also hopes that potential economic benefits will push China to constantly adapt its behaviour.
2.2. Historical Reviews of China-Africa relations
Philip Snow (1988) was one of the first historians who tried to come to terms with China’s engagement with Africa. His work does not fit any of the specific contemporary understandings of China. Snow essentially narrates China’s engagement from its beginnings in 1955 and throughout the Cold War eras. In similar way, authors such as Gavin Menzies (2003) and Jackson (1999) have been working towards documenting the history of China’s engagement with Africa. It is to these historians that Garth le Pere and Garth Shelton (2007) turn, tracing back China’s current engagement and defending their perspective that there is a significant normative framework behind China’s engagement of Africa, thanks to which there is then a significant experience of shared history.
2.2. The economics of China’s engagement
Alden (2007:5) divided writings on China’s relations with Africa into three different ways of understanding China’s engagement:
• as a development partner – commitment to transmit its development experience to the continent;
• as an economic competitor – short-term “resource-grab” which takes little account of local needs and concerns;
• as a colonizer – part of long-term strategy aimed at displacing traditional western orientation of the continent.
These conceptions are all general ideal types, but remain useful. These typologies in particular will be used as the backbone for compartmentalizing the rest of the literature on China in Africa. The author goes on to differentiate China’s engagements with another group of ideal types, this time categorizing African governments (Alden 2007:60-72). Chris Alden divides China’s engagement into two different strands according to the characteristics of the African partner: engagement with states characterized by pariah and illiberal regimes and weak democracies, to which China is seen as a benign source of stability; engagement with democracies with diversified economies, to which China can be both a strategic partner and a threatening competitor.
Kaplinsky and Mike Morris’ work (2006; 2007) in turn has tried to show how China presents above all a challenge to Africa and is in essence, a direct economic competitor of Africa’s labour intensive industries such as textiles. Along this line, Cheru (2007:11) argues that African leadership and strategy is lacking to balance the clarity and pro-activeness of Beijing, but that “opportunities should outweigh the threats if managed correctly”. The author believes that the lack of collective African response towards China poses a number of risks: security risks; environmental risks; governance risks; and economic threats. NEPAD is then proposed as a mechanism through which Africa can have a more concerted, regionally-based response to China. Cheru is essentially asking for Africa to “become a proactive risk manager” through a reinvention of NEPAD. On the downside of China’s development model for Africa, its critics claim that its engagement can potentially undermine NEPAD as well as EITI (Rocha 2007: 25).
According to Ndubisi Obidurai, the most negative aspect of China’s paradigm is that it can “justify the adoption of state-led economic policies coupled with intensified political repression”. When it comes to its Multinational Corporations (MNC) and State-Owned Enterprises (SOE), “China’s lack of domestic political criticism” arguably frees its government and companies from some ‘reputational risks’ “(…) but as global branding becomes more important this might change” (Ndubisi 2007: 45, 49, 51). In support of this, John Rocha (2007:32) suggests that it is a distorted international system that is facilitating the export of raw materials but inhibiting the trade of processed goods. As Chris Alden (2007: 105) notes, “the attractiveness of the Chinese model of development, which enabled rapid development to occur without challenging single-party rule, is undeniable for these autocrats”. Goldstein et al (2006), claim that the trade patterns between China and Africa are actually very similar to those Africa experienced earlier with other partners, while Guerrero and Manji (2008:3) point to how China is simply making the most of the opening up of Africa’s market, the fruit of decades of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP).
The notion that China has been pushed to Africa by virtue of market competition, utilising the channels of international capital as well as international financial and political institutions is implicit in much of the literature and will be made more explicit in this study. Coincidently, Shalmali Guttal (2008) chronicles how China has been making the most of its World Bank and Asian Development Bank membership, how it has simply been playing a game previously set out and encouraged by Western traditional donors. This view is also shared by Ndubisi Obidurah when he claims that “China exports the capitalism it knows” as Western investment made the China of today in its image (in Alden 2007: 112). At the same time Chinese capitalism seems to be a “better fit” for Africa than Western liberalism has been.
When it comes to international financial institutions, Guttal (2008) goes on to claim that Chinese officials have tended to disregard inputs from civil society agents outside the channels of African government. The author constructs an argument that is more supportive of the view that China’s engagement tends to be increasingly underpinned by severe economic competition. It is understood that because Africa opened its doors to China’s competition that exploitation sometimes occurs, but in these views this exploitation is more of an economic than a political nature. Dot Keet (2008:84-85) in turn worries about the actual “softness” of soft loans and that these can potentially accumulate into a new wave of debt burden for African economies. African agency should also be supported by institutions such as the African Development Bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Africa needs to be aware of such problems at the same time that the flows of investment keep growing. These are the central authors viewing China as a fierce economic competitor.
The work of Garth Shelton, Garth le Pere, Martyn Davies, Lucy Corkin, Christopher Burke and Sanusha Naidu tend to complement views that China is in some very specific sectors an economic competitor with other international actors in Africa while in other sectors it arrives as a dynamic stimulant. This is evident in a study of China’s presence in Africa’s infrastructure sector (Corkin et al. 2007) as well as in a study looking at how China delivers foreign aid to Africa (Davies et al. 2008). The argument is that China is first and foremost a development partner with great potential while its behaviour is framed within what the authors call “coalition engagements”– a collaborative state-business approach to foreign policy. Under this approach private resources from China’s MNCs and SOEs are put together with the political and diplomatic clout of China, resulting in an effective and innovative model of engagement which is flexible yet decisive in its nature and constitutes the central model of China’s strategic economic engagement with the continent.
According to these authors, China’s foreign aid forms an integral component of this paradigm. China’s approach has been one of mutual respect, also awarding small African countries with relatively little economic or political significance, with aid and investment support – Mozambique a case in hand. Meanwhile, debt relief is, along with low-interest loans and large-scale infrastructure projects, one of the incentives used by Beijing to develop and nurture close ties with African states (Davies et al 2008:12). To these authors one must add the work of Firoze Manji, who argues that “China has much to offer in areas such as rural development and intermediate technology” (Manji 2007:7) and of Tjonneland et. al. (2006) whose report argues that China is actually abiding to the United States’ domination and seeks, also in Africa, a peaceful rise through cooperation, playing by the rules of international political economy and riding the wave of globalisation.
In similar fashion, Obiorah Ndubisi (2006; 2007) demonstrates some alarm in regards to specific instances of China’s engagement but welcomes this engagement overall as being beneficial for Africa on economic and geopolitical terms. Ndubisi, however still points to the risk of China’s disregard for democratic values due to its economy-before-politics approach. China has had the “experience of linking new ideas of science and technology to a homegrown path of reconstruction” (Chidaushe 2007: 122). This Chinese model of development can hold, according to those who see China as a development partner, another important lesson. It can allow Africa to learn: how to organize trade policy; move from low to middle-income status; educate for quick pay off (Chan-Fishel 2007:139).
A look at China’s official discourse on development can be insightful. China claims that its model is non-prescriptive, presenting a language of no-strings-attached, equality and mutual benefit. It emphasizes the collective right to development over rights-based approaches based on individual rights, constantly stressing political stability and internally-driven development. Its economic diplomacy promotes a sovereignty-based order as it separates business from politics in its non-intervention approach. (Chan Fishel 2007:160). At the end of the day, as Ndubisi Obiorah (2007:38) puts it, “China represents that another world is possible in which bread comes before the freedom to vote”. Chinese firms have the potential of becoming catalysts and models that can offer incentives for some of the wealth to return to a capital-starved region (Brautigam in Alden 2007:129).
A conference report by the Swedish Institute for Security and development observed that the word “donor” is now consciously avoided by China (Marklund & Odqvist 2008:9). It also recognized that there is a need for more civil society involvement and that China can learn from the EU and US in terms of how to help regulate markets and on “how to regulate the shortcomings of market principles” (Marklund & Odqvist 2008: 20). While Sweden, and to some extent the EU have been focusing on soft issues, China is understood by some as having privileged hard issues (Marklund & Odqvist 2008: 11) as “China dislikes broadness and instead wants to concentrate on tangible actions plans”. At the same time there are very strong arguments to be made concerning China’s reliance on soft power, evidence comes from recent initiatives that comprise medical assistance, student exchanges, Confucius Institutes, film and cultural performances, radio stations and the presence of Xinhua news agency in Africa.
The authors conclude that China’s engagement has on the whole empowered Africa and given it more choices. The importance of corporate culture and improvement of corporate responsibility was put into evidence (Marklund & Odqvist 2008: 21).
Jian-Ye’s analysis is particularly interesting as the author goes beyond analyzing the impact of trade in strictly merchandise terms. The author acknowledges that, as the engagement becomes more complex, studying China needs to go beyond analyzing the role of central government (Wang 2007:1,12). He contributes to this by identifying four major reasons for China’s recent surge in Africa: government policies; markets for each other’s exports; Africa’s demand for infrastructure; and China’s differential approach to financing. Fu Tao (2008) in turn, stresses how civil society in China has also gone through a marked evolution and is much more pro-active and increasingly able to affect the behaviour of Chinese enterprises abroad. In similar lines, Peter Bosshard (2008) has also been arguing in favour of the importance of civil society having a prominent role so that the story of China’s engagement has a happy ending, but sees China’s engagement as more of an economic competitor than a development partner. Xu Weizhong (2008:73) in turn draws attention to a gap that there is in the exchange between China and Africa which is the one of cultural exchange and knowledge between the masses and the wider population of the two actors. As such the author contends that the so-called civilian diplomacy will be important, that which occurs informally through private sector exchanges. The author also asks for China to transform its current preference for bilateral relations into a more multilateral-based engagement. All these authors have tended to see China increasingly as a development partner.
Lastly, there are those who understand China as a new coloniser of Africa scrambling for political clout. This understanding is sometimes characterized by one-sided “China bashing” such as that witnessed sometimes in the media. An example of such instance was how in the 2007 EU-Africa summit, parts of the European media used expressions such as “China bulldozer policy towards Africa” (SIC Notícias 2007), followed by shadowy suggestions that China was practically taking hostage some African states by means of locking them into deals that stripped them out of their commodities. Also, in the academic world, China is sometimes portrayed as an imperial power that should be unwelcome in Africa. This is the case with the views of Stephen Marks (2007) and Margaret Lee (2006) who express great concern over China’s colonizing tendencies in Africa and blame them on aspects such as the arrival of neoliberal tendencies at home. A softened version of this understanding of China as a colonizer can be also notably found on an EU resolution proposed by European Parliament Minister of Parliament Ana Gomes (2007) and approved in 2008. In this report, Ana Gomes uses “scramble” vocabulary describing China’s impetus in Africa as being caused by the country’s “bulimia”. More gravely, it underestimates different degrees of autonomy and the unique characteristics of the wide range of actors that compose China’s presence in the continent.
Regarding these understandings, Moreblessings Chidaushe (2007: 117) claims he is “doubtful this criticism is a result of genuine concern for African welfare rather than the jealousy of a competitor”. This viewpoint is also reflected in John Karumbidza’s (Karumbidza 2007:89) observation of how “whereas British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Bono see Africa as a ‘scar on everyone’s conscience’, the Chinese see Africa as a business opportunity”. In fact, the views of two big critics of the understanding of China as a colonial power and of the new scramble for Africa, Sautman & Hairong (2007), support the argument that such unfounded affirmations should be avoided for the sake of constructive debate. They point to the double standards, and selective memory of Western countries which are leading the criticisms. The development lessons China holds for Mozambique do hold paradoxes.
China’s growth in the last decades has, at times, been at the expense of high labour flexibility, regional inequalities and poor labour standards and lenience regarding environmental norms. It has been the case that, within China’s development systems, only when businesses and companies develop into a higher-end productive apparatus do they tend to start tackling and overcoming these issues (Moran 2002). The element of competition in these perspectives is seen as a symptom of colonialism and political dominance. A more negative perspective towards China engagement is also presented by Ali Askouri (2008). He brings attention to the mass displacement of people caused by China’s involvement in big infrastructure projects as well as to how China’s scramble is at times destabilizing the political stability of certain African countries.
2.3. China and Mozambique
There has not been a lot written exclusively on China-Mozambique affairs. In its four country profiling of China-Africa relations, which included Mozambique, AFRODAD researchers asked a question which is close to the objectives of this study: to what extent China’s development agenda for Mozambique suits the one Mozambique has designed for itself?
AFRODAD’s report provides, so far, the most comprehensive view on China-Mozambique relations. It starts by claiming that the drivers of China’s engagement of Africa are: the need for new markets and investment opportunities; resource security; the need for symbolic diplomacy, development assistance and co operation; and forging strategic partnerships (AFRODAD 2007:1). The report portrays the several dimensions of China’s engagement with Mozambique, through loans, technical agreements and direct investments, describing how most of these tend to be designed and executed. The conclusions arrived at are basically that China has focused its engagement with Mozambique in the manufacturing sector and that its investments although not exactly matching the suggestions of PARPA I and PARPA II (Action Plan for the Reduction of Absolute Poverty) for development-friendly investment, can have an overall helpful impact on Mozambique’s development (AFRODAD 2007:25). There is also a stress upon the temporary and uncertain nature of China’s investment, as it is an engagement that is characterized by a very recent boom and stakeholders on both sides are still feeling the ground and getting to know each other. At the same time the financial linkages and deals being brokered between China and Mozambique are said to have the potential to accelerate growth and the development of economic sectors which have been either stagnant or underdeveloped until now.
Emmy Bosten’s (2006) overview, although providing a broad picture of China’s engagement with Mozambique, has a particular focus on the impact on South African contractors of the arrival of Chinese businesses to the construction sector in Mozambique. In her piece, she sees China as a development partner with great potential but one that is at the same time increasingly taking up contracts that previously used to go to South African and European construction firms. China is thus an economic competitor, not of Mozambique directly, but of installed business interests from other foreign powers. China’s engagement, although not without its downsides, is a welcomed arrival, at least in the construction sector since: it lowers the prices of the projects for the government; its city planning know-how used for its urban experience can be usefully transferred to other parts of the developing world like Mozambique; Chinese contractors are presenting cheaper building techniques and introducing Mozambique to new global value chains (Bosten 2006:10).
Alberto Bila (2007) also sees China as a new and valuable development partner for Mozambique. Bila brings up the issue of little conditionality in loans, investment and other forms of aid as a positive feature and claims that China assists in areas in which other donors and partners are not interested. Lastly, after going through some discrepancies between China’s proposals and Mozambique’s very own development agenda, the author calls for an organized vision from the government of Mozambique. He concludes that “Chinese assistance is still not a problem”, but that attention needs to be given to some particular issues such as the loan conditions from China Exim Bank and the lack of allocation efficiency from government (Bila 2007:27).
2.4 Ways of approaching China-Mozambique relations - the International Politics of China’s engagement
China’s engagement with Mozambique can be understood as being underpinned by elements from at least four different traditions of International Relations: Neo-Realism, Constructivism, Coxian perspective on International Political Economy and Neo-Liberalism. A brief summary of the insights that each tradition can provide to understanding China-Africa relations will now be presented. This section will not extensively map every school of IR but will in fact present a selection of the elements from each tradition deemed as most relevant and useful for this specific analysis.
2.4.1. China-Africa through the lenses of Neo-Realism
The philosophical foundations of Neo-Realism and its predecessor, realism, go back to Thucydides, Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes. These classical political theorists described the workings of political affairs as primarily tackling the fact that the nature of human beings is dominated by a survival-of-the-fittest ethos. The spin-off realist school of IR also has anarchy as a central tenet. It insists that relations between states are invariably competitive by transporting the idea of the state of nature (a condition without government) to international relations. The third image, the plane of international relations is a place where, just like in the domain envisioned in the state of nature there is no overarching “Leviathan”. Therefore states seek, above all, to safeguard themselves. Another important tenet is assuming the main actors of a political system, in this case states, as inherently rational actors that consistently make calculations towards maximizing their benefits vis-à-vis other actors in the system. This precept is known as the utilitarian dimension of Neo-Realism.
Under Neo-Realism politics and economics are seen as organically tied with economics being in the end subordinated to politics and state security. As the main proponent of Neo-Realism, Kenneth Waltz introduced a paradigm of International Relations that distinguished the ‘high politics’ of power and security from the dispensable economic and moral calculations of other approaches. States are the key and sole unit of analysis if one aims at systematizing the working of the international system. This particular understanding, also shared with Neo-Liberalism though in a softer tone, is in reality suitable for analysing China-Africa relations as these at a first glance remain a remarkably state-to-state affair. Indeed, “the state-directed nature of Chinese engagement in Africa is all about ‘coalition engagements’ across various sectors, which aligns to the long-term view of Beijing’s global aspirations and business expansion into the continent” (Davies et al. 2008:52).
In effect, China’s engagement can be considered a case in hand of how it is possible for rational egoists to cooperate even in an anarchical system (Brown 2001:49). These egoists are liable to cooperate whenever they perceive they can earn relative power gains. The greater intensity of the engagement is being driven by actors such as Chinese transnational corporations, small and medium enterprises and elements of civil society that play an increasingly important part. Neo-Realism however would understand the Chinese state and African governments as being the dominant actors in shaping and steering the relationship. In this perspective, China’s insistence in mutual recognition of each others’ sovereignty and non-intervention supports the idea that China plays by the “realist” rules that states rely solely on themselves to achieve security. Systematizing China’s engagement of Africa as part of a self-help system of international relations can lead to a claim that China is just carrying out short-term coalition building and power balancing. Because Neo-Realism is state-centric, it also puts on the international system the central responsibility for the inherent anarchical tendency of states and it does so in an approach that it deems as being rational and as complying with the scientific method (Chernoff 2002). In opposition, what Neo-Realism is seen as usually struggling to account for, is progress and change as well as with recognizing that power is multi-dimensional and has therefore various sources and manifestations.
Under Neo-Realism, the main function of states is to provide for their own security and this is exactly what China may arguably be doing, fulfilling its newly found abilities and power in its engagement with Mozambique and Africa. Hence, China’s presence in Mozambique can be understood as an episode in China’s attempt at expanding and protecting its markets, empowering its own state and gaining power-share in the international game of zero-sum politics. The actions of China, Mozambique and other African states are bound, under a Neo-Realist rationale, to follow the indications of the international system and are subject to its inherently competitive nature. They are victims of a close juxtaposition of states which “promotes their sameness through the disadvantages that arise from failure to conform to successful practices’ (Waltz 1979: 128).
Lastly, two different strands of Neo-Realism provide a final insight into how, even within a specific set of theoretical lenses, there is room for different readings. Under the first strand, offensive Neo-Realism, states will aggressively seek to maximize power to pre-empt challenges arising from peer competitors (Mearsheimer, 2003:22) which has led Ikenberry (2008:2) to claim that “Mearsheimer suspects China’s economic growth will lead to conflict”. In the second strand, defensive Neo-Realism, states will only pursue power as a means to achieve security, meaning that security is seen as “relatively plentiful among states and focused on the probability rather than the mere possibility of conflict” (Brooks 1997:447). Under this perspective there is room for a more relaxed and long-term cooperation between China and Mozambique. It fits within a more contained, yet still carefully planned, foreign policy. The main issue underlying cooperation remains power but security is the major engine of China’s dealings with Africa. Chin, in a defensive Neo-Realist perspective, would not actually be pursuing an all-out approach to achieving maximum subjugation from other states in the system, only its own security.
2.4.2. Through the lenses of Coxian IPE
International Political Economy understandings in general and critical political economy in particular believe that “economic relations between states are as important, if not more so, than political and military relations” (Berry 2007:3). Critical Internatioanl Political Economy for one had its genesis in radical social science.
Robert Cox (1996) draws from historical materialism in general and Wallerstein’s writing in particular, by presenting a perspective of International Relations that rearranges world systems theory. He asks the question of what is going on inside society. Marxist influence is present as Cox also looks at production as being the one that matters the most in determining who benefits. He is also adamant in defending the importance of looking at the intersections between how states are organised, how production is organised and the way international organisations are organised. According to Robert Cox, ideas are at a latter stage spread through hegemony in a subtle way and also produced through consent. He criticises the Neo-Realist split between politics and economics, claiming that this is not a real split as the state supplies the basic conditions to allow for capital accumulation. The realist balance of power is in this sense very superficial as sovereignty is in fact believed to carry out internal and external actions whereby economic issues become politicized and interstate relations allow for ways to explore labour internationally.
The author divides theory between problem-solving, that which tries to ascertain the best practice while accepting the basic premises of the tacit rules of international relations, and critical theory, that which focuses on the origins of power. Robert Cox understands the state as being an intermediate between the world order and social forces. His analysis is primarily materialistic but he also brings attention to how ideas have dialectical relationships with material conditions and institutions, meaning that these ideas also have an autonomy and agency of their own. This is important as it must be taken into account when those adopting Robert Cox’s tools carry out his suggested historical approach for understanding the succession of arrangements of ideas, institutions and material capabilities (Berry 2007:13).
An analysis of China in Africa through a Coxian approach would look at the historical roots of how China is asserting its hegemony through consent and would make a claim for critical theory to be involved instead of that restricted to problem-solving. Robert Cox’s dichotomy also helps inform the policy options that Mozambique’s governance actors have when it comes to their engagement with China. The content of these options (transmission belt vs. facilitator for development) are further explored in the Chapters below, particularly Chapter 6.
2.4.3. Susan Strange’s structural power
Susan Strange’s structural power framework also fits the Critical theory school. Quite different from a direct and visible form of power-exercise, structural power works through shaping the framework within which states interact with each other. Structural power is hence not about the explicit use of force, but rather about the ability to set the agenda. The state, or group of states, who posses structural power, have control of the political agenda, and thereby substantial control of what issues will be objects of political debates and decision making (Strange 2004). Robert Cox also adopted Strange’s notion of structural change. He argued that this change tended to take place whenever there was a mismatch between two types of ideas or ideational phenomena, that of intersubjective understanding and that of agent-specific ideas, i.e. between individual perceptions of “self” vs. “other” and collective, ideological perceptions of “self” vs. “other”. A shift in structural power on a global scale can now be identified, as the developing countries have grown stronger and become more visible on the international arena since the 1990s. The developing world was not meaningfully involved in multilateral trade negotiations before the launch of the Uruguay Round and the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO). At this point the markets of the larger developing countries had gained enough significance for the developed world, and they were therefore brought into the negotiations (Mattoo & Subramanian 2004; Drapner & Sally 2005).
Under this approach China can be seen as now attempting to enforce a hierarchical structure in the capitalist world economy and leaving poorer African states dependent on it. Now the central question remains if there is indeed a relationship underpinned by a vicious circle dominated by declining terms of trade between China and Africa. If so, is it right to consider that China, as a new core, is extracting profits from Africa which is chronically in the periphery? In this perspective, China’s embrace of the capitalist apparatus causes it to replicate the constant demand for the extraction of value from labour - a common feature of the dominant classes since the industrial revolution and a tendency which was re interpreted by Wallerstein at the level of interstate relations.
2.4.4 Through the lenses of Constructivism
Constructivism presents a clear epistemological break with other more mainstream IR schools. Social facts, the object of study of international relations, can only be understood through the textuality of contextualization. This means that systemic theorizations, underpinned by the rationality of actors are flawed since this rationality is relative and socially constructed. So, from the moment that identity is considered as being at the core of every action, IR theory, and how you actually “think” the world becomes the all-defining exercise.
Adopting a Constructivist approach to the engagement would lead us to take note of the importance of identity and how this identity has supplied China and Africa with a bridge supporting cooperation (Ruggie 1998; Wendt 1999). Wendt accepts some premises of realist thought including the claim that states should be the adopted political unit of analysis but, contrary to the realist prejudice that states are inherently aggressive. Wendt believe states are actually bound to create social relationships between them and therefore can potentially create a set of specific rules and benign modus operandi between them. State identity and interests cannot be taken for granted. The idea of the state is a social construction itself and the power of ideas, culture and identity cannot therefore be discarded.
As an emerging superpower, China now has clear institutional and economic ambitions. In its rise, China sees its African engagement as strategic as it arranges and pushes for its political space in global politics. As a player active in international organizations it now craves for support for its actions as an agent of the global polity. Thus, one important dimension of its attempt at accumulating more power is that of the social and cultural. As Joshua Kurlantzich (2007) chronicles in his book on China’s charm offensive, evidence of the potential of China as a socio-cultural magnet is already evident, particularly around Southeast Asia. China acknowledges that the way it represents itself to others ends up having real and important consequences and is therefore stimulating varied forms of horizontal linkages that are transnational in nature. This fascination and attraction towards Chinese culture and China’s model is now also being actively stimulated in the African continent.
2.4.5. Insights from Neo-Liberal elements of International Relations
“Realism is better at telling us why we are in trouble than telling us how to get out of it” (Keohane 1986: 198)
The classical origins of Neo-Liberalism and liberalism rest with authors such as Immanuel Kant, John Locke, Stuart Mill and Adam Smith. What the classic texts all have in common is basically the defence of reason as the only way to ensure survival, and that solving the necessities of individuals is the starting point to creating successful forms of cooperation and stable political systems.
It is now important to distinguish Neo-Liberalism as is commonly used in a detrimental fashion to characterize the failures of the economic model of the Washington Consensus and Neo-Liberalism as an IR school. Neo-Liberalism can hardly be understood as a stand alone school given its wide number of strands and uses as a term. In this study, its conceptualization refers to a specific theoretical revision and re-interpretation of the tenets of IR first advanced by Neo-Realism. These first tenets consisted in a view which regarded the international system as anarchic, originating a version of the state of nature at the international level, and of states as individually rational actors. Neo-Liberalism emerged as fundamentally disagreeing with Neo-Realism when it comes to the room there is for cooperation in the context of relations between states of “selfish” rationality. Above all, this school of thought believes that absolute gains will tend to take primacy over relative ones.
Neo-Liberalism’s central argument is that actors in the international system should actually be understood as having the potential to discuss and interact in a forum rather than invariably competing against each other in a “chess-board”. While in this forum, actors constantly recreate themselves, adapt and alter the rules of the game in contrast to the strict relative-gains rules of the realist game of chess. How you understand the reasons for states to behave in a cooperative way also has an important role in defining what your understanding of the nature of international relations is. A structural explanation of cooperation will be markedly different from a functional one. In a structural explanation, moves towards absolute gains will be seen as the independent variable while a functional analysis suggests cooperation is the result of rational-actor behaviour that minimizes information costs and curbs inefficiency.
These two different starting points are the different starting points that divide the neo-liberal spectrum between those closest to Neo-Realism and those rejecting the systemic attribution of anarchy and are closer to the more economics-based and functionalist version of Neo-Liberalism. The misconception over the notion of Neo-Realism as remaining the most powerful theory to explain and understand how the international system operates is also one of the reasons why authors such as Carporaso (1993) came to realize that notions like multilateralism, that realism struggles to come to terms with, have been underrepresented in the academic world of IR. In the current conditions of the global political economy, interdependence is the central phenomenon that brings about a diffusion of power in international relations (Simmons & Elkins 2004). In this view, the global political economy might create a more suitable environment for multilateralism, the emergence of international institutions and cooperation by means of a socialization process of states through evolving norms, rules and communication.
Concerning China’s engagement with Africa, given the recent nature of this wave of engagement, both actors are now starting to define what these norms, rules and forms of communication are. A small repertoire of what these specifically are will be advanced below and noted throughout the empirical examples. The neo-liberal paradigm improves upon the neo-realist one in that it privileges issues of time and trust as relevant factors in determining the success of norms and socialization at the international level and cooperation. Under this rationale, actors are less likely to free-ride or defect if they know they will lose out in the long run. It is in this context that the role of ideas and discourse comes about. One may agree with the notion that Neo-Realism “tells us a small number of big important things” (Waltz 1979:329) but that the things Neo-Realism tells us are indeed too small and need to be revised even if its parsimony and scope are to be praised. Given this, if Neo-Liberalism does accept “states” as the most basic and dominant unit of analysis for international relations, it also acknowledges the importance of non-state actors. This school accepts the pressures of the anarchical system in propelling states to rationally compete with each other in terms of power. This acceptance, however does not deny the possibility for mitigating this competition and of actually channelling it into new forms of institutional innovation and cooperation that goes beyond instinctive self-help.
Keohane (1984; 1989; 1994) basically fuses politics and economics in order to go beyond the limiting security obsession of neo-realists. Such proves to be particularly important for understanding the behaviour of important sub-state actors in our analysis of China-Africa relations. Because this study will be assessing development in a broad sense, the division that Neo-Realism makes between high and low politics will be rejected since the economy is seen as having a fundamental role in international relations. Also, Neo-Liberalism connects the domestic with the international sphere much more successfully, saying that it is not possible to speak of national interest and international politics without mentioning domestic politics. The case is that interdependence can mitigate attrition between states as long as there is the likelihood for stable trade benefits in the future (Copeland 1996:7). This leaves out only two options for states: either they close down on themselves totally or they internationalise themselves through international institutions.
Interdependence represents in this case a form of mutual dependence which is not accounted for in neo realist premises and one that becomes very obvious in China’s international relations with Africa. This is the case because the impact of interdependence in the international system is one that opens up for the possibility of harmony and cooperation between states. Such is somewhat of a necessity as the political units (in this case the state) will not be able to produce everything they need by themselves. Interdependence brings about benefits and costs which are however not symmetrically distributed among the participants, meaning that more powerful countries tend to try and transfer the undesirable costs to the weakest states. This asymmetric interdependence sustains the neo-realist notion of sovereignty as states still impose themselves on one another and remain the supreme authority within their territories but does challenge the notion of states as autonomous units which invariably act towards one another in a rationale of self-help (Katzenstein 1976:8).
Also, this asymmetry is rather prominent in China Africa relations in general and China-Mozambique relations in particular. China constantly insists in labelling its relationship with Mozambique and that with the whole of Africa as one of equals. The characteristics of their economic interdependence however tell a different story as the trade balance favours China and other aspects of the engagement make for an uneven relationship which is in turn not necessarily of an exploitative nature. Even though there is a state structure behind them, Chris Brown (2001:38) praises Neo-Liberalism for acknowledging that “the decisions and actions of non-state actors can affect our lives as much as the decisions and actions of states, if not actually more”. Support for this can be found both in the two levels of China’s economic engagement of Africa: the level of big business and state-led enterprises and that of more autonomous small and medium enterprises. Just look at the importance of institutions such as ICBC, China Exim-Bank and SINOPEC in this same engagement. These entities driving the high profile engagement, although not wholly detached from the PRC state apparatus, have progressively gained more autonomy and will tend to continue to do so in the future. Under Neo-Liberalism China’s accession to the WTO is seen as proof of how international institutions and the will to join international institutions can affect and alter the behaviour of states, in this case China. These international institutions have brought about reputation costs, allowed for issue decomposition and issue linkages, reduced transaction costs and information costs and brought some forms of enforcement measures.
China is growing while making active use of international institutions to promote the country’s development of global power status, as Michael Komesaroff (2008) shows in his paper looking at how China is now relying on the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris to safeguard its massive investments in the Democratic Republic of Congo. China also wants the protections that the systems’ rules and institutions provide (Ikenberry 2008). According to neo-liberals there are many cases in which institutions do matter. They can: provide information; reduce transaction costs; make commitments credible; establish focal points for coordination, and in general facilitate the operation of reciprocity (Keohane & Martin 1994). What Keohane & Martin defend is that states can functionally make use of the existence and good function of institutions to improve the quality of information and optimize potential gains from cooperation. They also make more than, as Mersheimer criticizes, simply preventing cheating. Institutions have the ability to work as moderators and control to a certain extent “fears of unequal gains from cooperation” (Keohane & Martin 1994).
The idea of complex interdependence is particularly useful since there are multiple channels of access between the societies and actors under analysis, something that will become particularly evident in chapter 7 exploring the Macau-Forum. In addition, and except perhaps for the issues of arms trade and peacekeeping, force has been of low salience in defining China-Africa relations. At least when it comes to conventional military power-play, force has played a small role in defining the relations. Lastly, there has been a clear fluidity and variance when it comes to the matters of a hierarchy of issues in the relationship. Although Taiwan and the one-China policy have usually been number one in the diplomatic agenda, this issue starts to lose importance as other issues of economic interest, trade, resource security or other international diplomacy affairs become more salient and any “issue-area” might be at the top of the international agenda at any particular time (Keohane & Nye 1989:24). In this sense, Keohane’s Neo-Liberalism adopts what Carporaso (1993) terms a socio-communicative approach in that it updates the systemic “stiffness” of Waltz and focuses on the previously mentioned consequences of the practical rules and norms that multilateral institutions have brought, attributing some significance to aspects of communication, language and persuasion.
The previous theoretical discussion allows only framing the discussion and analysis but also to provide the tools with which to break down and analyse the examples below and with which to enter the ongoing academic discussion on China-Africa. Chris Alden’s ideal types were used as ways in which to understand the role of China in Africa to review and organize the literature. The literature analysing China in Africa has been boxed as: a development partner, economic competitor and colonizer but still these categories are not final. It is important to keep in mind that each author frequently reflects views from all three understandings.
The previous discussion of IR theories’ contribution to the debate started by describing the philosophical foundations of each school and what insights and tools each can provide to analyze China in Mozambique. All the schools described will provide different useful, often alternative, dimensions of the engagement.
Neo-Realism tends to see China as a competitor, striving towards colonialism and wanting to gain as much relative power vis-à-vis Africa and other international stakeholders in the continent. Susan Strange’s framework can be used to observe how China is now making use of its influence in affecting structural power. Coxian IPE can in turn be used to underpin the views of those who claim China is wishing to build and consolidate its power structures of economic dominance and submission. Constructivism will in turn see China’s relation with Africa as open-ended, defined by the evolution in nature of discourse between the stakeholders of the relationship. The tools of Neo-Liberalism show that there is theoretical room to understand China’s engagement as either going down a path of harmful competition or of a development partner.
These frameworks are not always compatible but in the occasions where this happens, it will often be the case that a lack of consensus will put into evidence a specific uncertainty regarding China-Africa relations that is worth pinpointing and exploring.
China-Africa-Mozambique relations will be analysed not so much within the current discourse of the scramble perspective, seeing China as a new colonial power but rather will try to frame it within what we interpret as the nature of the contemporary global political economy and how this is influencing the China-Mozambique-Africa relationship. This does not mean however we discard all insights from the scramble colonialism arguments. Rather a discourse that is more reactive to Africa's interaction with China is opted for. Adopting somewhat of a constructivist argument, while there may be certain inherent characteristics similar to the previous colonial scrambles, the discourse remains limited. The scramble argument is situated within a Western-centric framework which is in itself flawed since it takes as its main reference point the behaviour of Western powers vis-à-vis Africa. It would be easy for African political and economic elites to fall into the same trap of becoming overly dependent on China and India as alternate partners to the West. Instead it is cautioned that China plays by the logic of constituency-economics like all other sovereign states, which are seeking permanent interests and not permanent friends.