Spotlight series: Centre for Chinese Studies (CCS)

2nd June 2015
This week, we focus on Centre for Chinese Studies (CCS) at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, for our Spotlight series. The series profiles research organisations based in developing countries.

CCS logoThe Centre for Chinese Studies originated from a joint undertaking between the governments of South Africa and the People’s Republic of China, agreed at the South Africa-Chinese Bi-national Commission held in June 2004. Now firmly established, CCS focuses exclusively  on research and analysis addressing issues around China’s growing presence within Africa, and the centre is proud to emphasise that it is the only full-time centre devoted to the study of China on the African continent.

The work of CCS is aimed at policy makers, academics, government, media and civil society groups, and it concentrates on three major work strands: politics, economics and environmental issues. Dr Ross Anthony, Interim Director of the Centre, points out that CCS feels that there is misconception about China’s presence in Africa – much of it highly critical of the Chinese side. Through empirical research, the centre aims to offer a more balanced and nuanced view of the engagement. For instance there have been some rather negative reports on Chinese ‘land-grabs’ in Africa which more recent research has refuted – particular insofar as Chinese agricultural investments are more modest than assumed. Nevertheless, issues of global food security suggest that China and various other powers will invest more in African agriculture within coming years, which will necessitate greater research.

Chinese colleagues frequently visit the centre and there is scholarly co-operation with several Chinese Universities. One of the advantages of being the only China centre in Africa is that CCS is strategically positioned to get a lot of attention, considering issues of staff size, resources, and their location at the tip of Africa!

What’s on the horizon for China-Africa engagement?

Dr Anthony highlights some of the issues that will warrant more interest in the future. The role of Chinese banks within sub-Saharan Africa and the potential of Africa as a growing site for Chinese FDI, particularly in the realm of manufacturing, is something which offers great opportunity. As China shifts toward a consumer society and wages rise, part of its manufacturing base may move off shore. Africa is one potential destination and there are very animated conversations, within China and African countries about how to lure manufacturing to Africa. If this occurs, assertions that China is simply after African resources will lose their force; manufacturing has the potential to produce much longer-lasting benefits to African economies, although it will also come with its own challenges of labour rights, wages and CSR.

Broader security issues will also become more pertinent: for instance, how China co-operates with other countries to combat epidemics like Ebola; how China will maintain its ‘non-interference’ policy as its investments increase and it begins to deeply more ‘boots on the ground’ troops, as has been recently seen in Mali and South Sudan. Even more broadly are questions of new global economic and political groupings and how Africa fits into them. For instance, will groupings such as BRICS begin to assert greater influence on Africa and how will developed countries, who traditionally exercised influence over Africa, respond? Will these larger powers (in both the developing and developed world) be able to co-operate with each other in terms of challenges (such as climate change and terrorism) and avoid regions like Africa becoming chessboards for a new Cold War?

Events coming up for CCS:

The second half of this year will see South Africa hosting the Forum on China Africa Co-operation (FOCAC). The meeting is crucial in shaping the agenda for the engagement for the next three years and the Chinese side offers numerous forms of assistance. One issue with FOCAC is that the Chinese side is highly co-ordinated and plays a large role in driving the agenda while African states remain uncoordinated.

CCS will also be publishing a special edition of its publication, The China Monitor, which will draw upon the expertise of various colleagues within the centre and beyond to debate 2015’s FOCAC agenda and the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead.

Photo: Damien du Toit