Wednesday, April 27, 2011

African Studies Lag Behind Booming Chinese Relationship With the Continent

African studies lag behind booming relationship with the continent

By Li Lianxing (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-04-28 07:10

Specialists sometimes fail to offer proper policy advice to govt, firms

BEIJING - Officials and researchers called for more solid research on Africa and more financial support for related research at a forum on Wednesday, saying China's African studies lag behind the boom in Sino-African relations.

In China, there is a gap between theoretical research and the reality of Africa, Wei Jianguo, director of the Chinese Society for African Studies, said at the launch ceremony of the African Research Forum of the Chinese Society for African Studies in Beijing.

Specialists sometimes fail to provide proper policy advice and instructions to the government and Chinese companies, Wei added.

"For instance in the Libya case, if we could have a better understanding of the situation in Libya and give relevant risk evaluation reports, much loss would have been avoided," he said.

Fundamental theoretical research of African studies in China lags behind policy research, and the weak theoretical foundation could result in shallow and improper policies, according to Zhang Hongming, vice-director of the Institute of West Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

However, they all said China's African studies had made considerable progress since they commenced in the 1960s.

"China's African studies started very late compared with the West. The first research institution on Africa was established in 1961," said Zhang.

China's research on Africa came late, but "the achievements of African studies in China during the 20th century were quite impressive, and the contributions continue into the 21st century," said Li Anshan, a professor at the African Studies Center of Peking University.

Western academia and governments have enjoyed a long history of African studies dating back to the 19th century . It has become a well-established multi-disciplinary research field covering a wide range of subjects including anthropology, history, political science, linguistics, geography, sociology and economics.

As a comprehensive research field, it requires a large research team covering various disciplines and different regions on the continent.

"This is because more people interested in Sino-African relations, but the number of people focusing on Africa itself is decreasing," said Zhang.

A lack of financial support for research has also hindered development. Zhang said the research has sometimes succumbed to the funding bodies' initiatives.

Ghanaian Ambassador to China Helen Mamle Kofi said during the ceremony that to improve ties between the two sides, Chinese academia and investors should "seek further education on Africa and embark on the necessary feasibility and market survey research of African countries".

The establishment of the forum is expected to enhance bilateral understanding and the development of African studies in China. It is also expected to provide effective advice to the government and practical suggestions to Chinese investors.

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