Greening Africa-China Relations: African Agents Punching Below their Weight?
China is changing the global metabolism of goods and resources. In the last few decades, China has launched an unprecedented and unparalleled economic engagement with Africa. The level of Chinese investment on the continent is still very low relative to its investment in other regions whereas, for many African countries, China has already become the leading trading partner in terms of both import and export business. In fact, China has surpassed the U.S.A. as the single largest trading partner of Africa in 2009. One key area of debate in this evolving relationship has been the growing environmental footprint of the partnership. Unlike in the past, environmental issues have now taken center stage in world politics mainly due to the increasingly daunting challenges nations are confronted with in terms of environmental and climate change crises. It has taken China quite some time to realize that environmental protection is a matter of survival and not a luxury. Hence, the Government of China has been issuing rules, regulations, and guidelines to encourage more sustainable economic development. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been vigorously introduced to the business sector since the mid-2000s in an attempt to achieve this objective. The outcome of this policy direction has been positive in that many businesses have been forced to adhere to the strict guidelines; it also reflects burgeoning social activism against pollution and environmental destruction at home. This has, however, had its downside because companies started to expand to regions with poor governance and weak environmental regulations, notably Africa. There is already some evidence that Chinese investment in Africa, if not regulated properly, would repeat the history of pollution in China. This article argues that the limited success that CSR has registered in China could be repeated in Africa only when African states start to engage strategically with rising powers like China. African governments need to strictly enforce environmental policy and empower non-state actors, particularly civil society organizations (CSOs), to actively monitor developments and safeguard the environment.
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