'China Safari' drills down to heart of China-Africa partnership

Where China Safari is most successful is in its close-up encounters with the characters that expose the nuances of the China-Africa partnership — from tycoons such as Wood, so well-esteemed by Nigerian authorities he's been allowed to register his fleet of SUVs as police vehicles, to Peng Shu Lin, a 36-year-old laborer leaving China for the first time because better pay awaits in Africa.

Through a witty narrative that at times becomes a first-person travelogue, the authors entertain while educating, revealing in the process the absurdities that come with reporting on the ground in Africa.

Ultimately, from their time spent traipsing across the African continent, Michel and Beuret reach two main conclusions. Whatever its intentions, China, unlike the West, has done something invaluable in showing Africa that it is not "condemned to everlasting stagnation." China, they write, has "offered Africa a future — or at least a vision of the future — that would have been inconceivable just a decade ago."

Yet the real story, they say, is not about Africa, but China's ambition to take a new "Great Leap Forward," in a contest for influence, military access and resources against America and its European allies. Africa, the authors say, was merely an obvious place to start, "in which the Chinese dragon might sharpen its teeth before taking on the big boys."

If this is the case, then China Safari— an admirable contribution to a story with broad geopolitical implications — may only be a preview.

Jon Rosen is a freelance journalist who has reported from Italy, Kenya, Tanzania and Washington, D.C.

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