Africa & WorldAnalysis

International division of labour: China’s impact to African development agenda

By Masimba Chaza

DIVISION of labour can be understood as referring to roles that individuals occupy within the production process and classification to either simple or detailed are largely dependent on the tasks at hand. International division of labour refers to whereby countries specialize in the production of particular products for export.

The concept entails that countries are distinct branches of production whether be it for selected parts of production or the manufacturing of particular products in the value chain. Whereas orthodox division of labour is seen as providing mutual benefits from the specialized branches, alternative analysis of International Division of Labour stresses the inequalities and structural hierarchies it creates which result in differential rates of economic growth between core, semi-core and periphery states in global economic development.

Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations is the leading text in liberal economic order, its advocates for free market economics and promotes division of labour as a way means to mutual benefit. China has managed to adapt to the global economic trend starting in 1970s by selectively opening up to the world. This resulted in China becoming a destination of choice for global capital hence the moniker ‘The Factory of the World’.

In the conjunction with the above China has been able to utilize international division of labour to its advantage through offering favorable trading condition with limited state intervention in terms of how multinational corporations function. Essentially China has allowed the invisible hand to operate though it has retained control on the labour force within these institutions that operate in the Shenzhen, Pearl Delta region and nationally through the state controlled All China Federation of Trade Unions.

China has used its human capital as the most populous country in the world to offer unlimited cheap labour supply to multinational corporations (MNCs) and transnational corporations (TNCs).

Coupled with relaxed laws governing labour conditions, these has allowed China to become the ideal location for production of particular products such as microchips due to reduced cost of production and limited regulations that span from labour to environmental protection.

The presence of ideal conditions that offer the prospect of realization of maximum returns on capital investments has also impacted China positively through increased Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), promoted technological transfers from companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Google and IBM. It has also led China to become a technological and industrial hub in Asia, increased rate of growth in terms of infrastructure.

Moreover, China’s economic growth which is attributable to a hybrid approaches of capitalism with Chinese characteristics. It is therefore plausible that assert that China has gained from economic liberalism.

While the result may have not been clearly defined on the onset, China role has significantly evolved to include setting of trends in conduct of political economy. However, Chinas’ past as a non-conformist offers key learning points towards achieving African Union Agenda 2063 of rapid transformation.

Whereas core countries that are developed in the West advocate for trade liberalization in principle but remain reluctant to undertake reduction of trade barriers with the fear exposing their domestic markets, China similarly practices protectionism. This is shown with how China by design or default becomes gatekeeper to Africa countries development.

Its failure to facilitate technological transfer which would accelerate industrial growth which would allow raw material beneficiation is indicative of a strategic choice to perpetuate Africa classification as the periphery in global economics.

China’s involvement Sub-Sahara Africa is then premised on the vision of maintaining its status quo in which economic gains accrue to her while blindsiding leaders of less developed countries by token rewards in bilateral arrangements whilst colluding with the capitalist corporations.

How then can African states such as Zimbabwe respond to the negative impacts of international division of labour? They should advocate a realistic solution through Global Division of Labour in which countries use resources within their geographic locations to gain comparative advantage.

This in turn improves global economic connectivity into networks of production and promotes complex interdependence as without Africa’s involvement shocks will result to the supply chain hence the more reasons international financial institution to encourage fair access to funding.

Masimba Chaza
  • About the author: Masimba Chaza is an Msc student in Politics and International Relations at the University of Zimbabwe. ■

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