His talk centered on his book “China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants are Building a New Empire in Africa” and what led him to write it.
While his most recent post at The Times was as the Shanghai bureau chief, his interest in China and its relationship with Africa began back when he was the paper’s Tokyo bureau chief.
From his office there he started to notice trucks from Mali making regular deliveries to a nearby building. He eventually found out from workers in the building, that the trucks were doing business with the Chinese.
“I decided to write to my editors that no one is talking about this,” French said. “One of the joys in working in the media is that it is a ticket to go places.”
French’s editor’s allowed him to follow his instincts and he traveled to Ethiopia, Malawi, Chad and wrote about China and Africa.
Through hundreds of interviews French discovered that China sent a mass amount of Chinese workers to a variety of African countries as part of a new industrialaztion plan in the 1990’s. New stadiums and buildings were just a few of the new projects that these Chinese workers were assigned to complete.
French was surprised to learn that these Chinese workers contacted their friends and family members to relocate to the countries in Africa that they worked in. This is why the original population of workers skyrocketed to what he estimates as ‘more than a million’.
While Chinese aid and investments in Africa has provided the African governments with fresh opportunities for transforming their economies, this Chinese presence in Africa raises new questions about who benefits from these investments.
“The Chinese said ‘we have an opportunity, and that opportunity is called Africa.’” said French.