Are We There Already, or Not Quite Yet?

Zooming-in on an “Unfinished” Country Exporting “Development”
11:00 am – 12:45 pm
Room 3

  • Organised by Marina Rudyak
  • Marina Rudyak, “Mind the Gap: Deconstructing the Narrative of China’s Strategic and Monolithic Foreign Aid System”
  • Marius Meinhof, “‘Not Yet Rich but Already Old’—The Promotion of Filial Piety and the Idea of Backwardness/Modernisation”
  • Nicholas Loubere, “Unequal Extractions: Reconceptualising the Chinese Miner in Ghana”

China has become a major development cooperation actor in the countries of the Global South. A growing body of work deals with the potential impact of Chinese actions, often portraying China as a monolithic actor. This panel seeks to challenge these monolithic narratives by zooming-in on different manifestations of “development” in relation to Chinese conceptions of being part of the Global South.
This panel covers two key aspects of China and development in the Global South. The first two papers examine official development narratives: Meinhof discusses how different state and non-state actors discuss China’s “backwardness”, which as a world-view has to be understood as deeply inscribed into Chinese discourses of modernity that rather than simply state ideology. Rudyak uses the case of Chinese aid to illustrate, how this world-view has been externalised to the Global South, with China seeking to share its development experience as the “most developed” among developing countries.
The second two papers turn to Chinese implementation practices of “development” on the ground: Baldakova zooms-in on Chinese investment flows in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan under the Belt and Road Initiative, showing how local structural factors play an important role in project implementation. Loubere focuses on the informal economic migration of small-scale gold miners from a poverty-stricken county in China to Ghana, examining how marginal Chinese actors operating outside state planning nevertheless take part in China’s developmental push in the Global South.
Together, the panellists argue that there are major gaps between the official state narratives and policies of development, and highlight the differentiated “development” manifestations and experiences of Chinese actors.

Marina Rudyak, “Mind the Gap: Deconstructing the Narrative of China’s Strategic and Monolithic Foreign Aid System”

China has risen to the top ten of the world’s donors of development finance. In 2013, China’s President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); in 2018, China created a dedicated agency to manage its foreign aid—China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA). Numerous external observers assume that China’s development cooperation incl. BRI follows a clear cut strategy (or even a debt trap diplomacy) of challenging establishes international standards. The Chinese discourse, on the other hand, maintains that China’s development cooperation system is not yet “mature” and attribute the gaps between policies and practices to the learning process.
This paper, first, elaborates how Chinese development cooperation policy must be understood as an externalisation of China’s domestic discourse about the need to “develop”. While the Chinese government argues for the right to an independent development path for every country, it clearly tries to share China’s “unique” development lessons in the proposed Community of Shared Future. Second, it zooms-in on the policies and practices of development cooperation using the case of development lending. By highlighting the gaps between the official discourse, policies, and regulations, and their implementation, the paper elaborates on the process by which the system is trying to become more “mature.” Hereby it shows, that neither the Chinese aid policy nor the aid system is the monolithic entities as which they are often perceived from outside, but an assemblage of different—and often competing—actors, with differentiated interests and practices.

Marius Meinhof, “‘Not Yet Rich but Already Old’—The Promotion of Filial Piety and the Idea of Backwardness/Modernisation

My presentation will discuss the relation between filial piety (孝) and modernisation in China, especially the question how the idea of China as a not yet fully developed country corresponds with the promotion of the traditional virtue of filial piety. Since the semi-colonial era Chinese thinkers have produced descriptions of China as a country in need of modernisation. This modernisation narrative has been able to mobilise great collective agency but has often come at a price of constructing a hyperreal West as point of “external reference” for talking about the future. In the 21st century, state discourse as well as many popular discourses have sometimes tried to avoid these external references by invoking visions of future based on “traditional Chinese virtues” such as filial piety (孝) in order to root their identity in a sense of old historic culture, and to promote an idea of Chineseness that goes beyond the distinction of modern/backward. This, however, has not replaced the modernisation narrative but has been merged with it, so that notions of modernisation and traditional virtues are frequently related to one another and negotiated in respect to each other. My presentation will follow some of these negotiations by asking how the notion of a thousand of years old traditional virtue of filial piety corresponds to the idea of a China that is still under development and in need of a moral construction of its citizens.

Nicholas Loubere, “Unequal Extractions: Reconceptualising the Chinese Miner in Ghana”

Over the past decade, Chinese migration to Africa has increased rapidly alongside the expansion of Chinese economic engagement with the continent. The entrance of new forms of Chinese industry, aid, commerce, and resource exploration has been transformative, prompting debates over whether China in Africa is better described as neo-colonialism or a new form of beneficial developmentalism. One of the most dramatic examples of Chinese migration to—and economic engagement with—an African nation is the recent Chinese gold rush in Ghana, which started in the mid-2000s with the rapid influx of tens of thousands of small-scale gold miners from a single poor rural county in China, and continues to this day. This paper presents a critical examination of how the Chinese miners have been depicted in governmental, media, and academic discourse as a homogenous group, both benefiting from Ghanaian gold extraction and impacting their surroundings in generally uniform ways. Drawing on fieldwork in both Ghana and China, we argue that this portrayal neglects to highlight the differentiated experiences of the miners and the segmentation that exists within the miner group, which consists of both winners and losers. It also flattens out the complex ways in which the Chinese miners’ activities impact on local areas and populations in Ghana, as well as on households and left-behind populations in China.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room 3
Zooming-in on an “Unfinished” Country Exporting “Development”