|Ross Anthony says that China gets unfairly criticized for its role in Africa. [Photo / China Daily]|
South African academic sees China's involvement in continent as normal.
Ross Anthony believes accusations in the West that China is a new colonial power in Africa are a form of racism.
The 36-year-old South African academic insists it is "hilarious" that the actions of Chinese corporations and businesses are conflated into some "grand State strategy".
"If BP does something dodgy in Nigeria, nobody says that is 10 Downing Street's fault and David Cameron organized it all. But they do that with China.
"It is actually a form of racism. People actually want an enemy and China fits the bill. It is not rocket science to see that."
Anthony was speaking in a seminar room at Stellenbosch University in South Africa's Western Cape province, where he is a research fellow at the Centre for Chinese Studies, the only such dedicated center in sub-Saharan Africa.
The South African academic, who partly specializes in global security issues including threats to the environment, does not, however, regard China's economic involvement in Africa as completely benign.
"The reason why China is here is because they have joined the global economy. They pull stuff out of the ground, manufacture it in southern China and ship it globally, particularly to America, and then it is sold on the shelves of Wal-Marts," he says.
"This global consumption capitalist lifestyle is putting pressure on global resources and causing environmental problems, which are becoming a greater issue. So my take on this is that anxieties about China and Africa just obscure what the real problem is."
Anthony, who was born in Durban but brought up in Johannesburg, returned to South Africa last year from Cambridge University, where he completed a doctorate in social anthropology.
A China specialist with a particular focus on studying Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, he might have taken up a position at Oxford specializing in Islam in China instead.
"It was flattering. I went to some interviews and they called me back. It was a nice gig but I pulled back because I felt if I went deeper into Islam and Xinjiang, I would become stuck with that.
"Here there's so few people with expertise on China, there is no real space for specialization. People phone the China center and expect you to know everything from republican politics and the Ming Dynasty to Africa trade. I quite like that. It is far more exciting to be here. You have to know about everything."
Anthony, whose languid manner only thinly disguises his sharp intellect, says that as an area of study the China-Africa relationship has grown almost exponentially over the last decade.
"In 2000, there were probably a few lone people studying the relationship but now there are institutions devoted to it, magazines and all various kinds of media set up based around it," he says.
Anthony became interested in China by chance shortly after taking his first degree in art history at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg.