Yuan Sun explains Chinese investment motives in Africa

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As a child growing up in China, Irene Yuan Sun had never even seen plastic wrapping (“cling film”) until 1980 when her father brought back a whole suitcase full from Japan, presenting it proudly to friends and colleagues at work as gifts. Plastic wrapping transformed Chinese diets since it opened a new era of safety in food preparation and storage.

Irene Yuan Sun used this story to illustrate the sheer speed of industrialization and its critical role in economic development, since plastic wrapping is now primarily manufactured in China, and its use is taken for granted in Chinese kitchens.
Irene Yuan Sun, Associate Partner at McKinsey & Company, and lead author of “Dance of the Lions & Dragons”, McKinsey’s report on the Africa-China economic relationship, had been invited to speak at a seminar hosted by the African Development Institute (ECAD), the Industrial and Trade Development Department (PITD), and the Agricultural Finance & Rural Development Department (AHFR) of the African Development Bank at the Babacar N’Diaye Auditorium at the Bank’s headquarters on 8th February, 2019. She was welcomed and introduced by the Bank’s Senior Vice President Charles Boamah. Her theme was “The Next Factory of the World – Chinese Investments in Africa”, and she based her presentation on her recently published book on the same theme[1].

The similarities between the recent Chinese economic development experience and the current development challenge in Africa are crucial to understanding Chinese economic engagement in Africa, said Yuan Sun.
In addition, most adult Chinese now 40 or over have experienced a significant degree of economic and social privation similar to that now existing across Africa, and this explains the Chinese private sector’s genuine commitment as well as its acceptance of higher risk in African industrial projects. In this sense, said Yuan Sun, “Chinese industrial investment will help to achieve African economic transformation”.

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Irene Yuan Sun argues that Africa can quickly industrialize in the coming generation, and explains that the reason why the Chinese are heavily involved in African economic development is because they are convinced of the profitability of infrastructure and industrial investments, believing that Africa is following the Chinese model for achieving wealth and economic success.
She pointed out that 90% of the Chinese investment in Africa is funded by the Chinese private sector, and insisted that only infrastructural, industrial and manufacturing investment can assure full economic transformation for Africa, as it has done so in record time for China.

Atsuko Toda, the African Development Bank’s Director of Agriculture, Finance and Rural Development, said, “Irene’s remarks today and her book add substantially and insightfully to the debate about African economic regeneration and the role of the private sector, as well as to the current discussion about Chinese investments in Africa. The Bank is most grateful to Irene for her invaluable perspectives.”

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