China in Africa: A multiplier effect? Interview with Mark Mobius

Blake Hounshell interviews the “father of emerging market funds”:

China is a very positive element to this whole picture,and there are two sides to this: There’s the Chinese government and the Chinese entrepreneur. The Chinese government goes in and they say to a country, “Look, we want to be friends.” And then they say, “Look, we know you’ve got this coal, and we need this coal. We can do a deal with you to export the coal into China, but in order to get it out of the country we’ve got to build a railroad. If you’ll do a long-term deal with us, we’ll build the railroad.”

Once that begins, then you have Chinese contractors, Chinese workers coming in and establishing small businesses and trading. And their relatives come in and they see the opportunities. So you begin to get a private market in Chinese products and to expand and attract other people, and you begin to have more of a market economy.

Then you have people like retail outlets in South Africa wake up and say, “Hey, they’re in the market here. The Chinese are selling this and that. Why don’t we go in and set up a business?” So I would say that generally speaking, the influence of the Chinese has been very positive for these countries.

Of course there are some downsides. Some countries say that the Chinese are doing all the work and we don’t have any jobs and so forth and so on, but these are things that can be ironed out.

The State Department is very much aware of what’s going on,but at the policy level they have not committed the kind of resources that the Chinese have committed. And that’s highly unfortunate, but I think going forward there will be more private-sector involvement from the U.S. in particular.

On a side note, I am very, very happy with the quality of Chinese food here in Monrovia at the moment.