Should we be worried by China?

Book review: Winner Take AllDambisa Moyo examines China's growing appetite for commodities - and asks whether the Chinese are taking over.


By Dambisa MoyoPublished by Allen Lane

"In 2010, China had 40 cities of more than a million; by 2020 it plans to have added another 225." That's the kind of fact that peppers Dambisa Moyo's latest, Winner Take All. As John Gapper puts it in the FT, so many facts have been packed into her book "that it is impossible to read without learning something".

However, Moyo's aim is not so much to impress us with the well-worn thesis most have read before that China is industrialising at a breakneck rate. Rather, she aims in part to frighten; in its quest to satisfy the rising demands of 1.3 billion people, China is starting to exert an iron grip on the commodities market.

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Moyo claims Beijing is deliberately following a strategy similar to US food retailer Walmart. In both cases a dominant buying position lets them squeeze their suppliers. Due largely to the sheer scale and speed of China's transformation, the world faces "unprecedented constraints in natural resources; from arable land, to water, to minerals and oil in particular".

The book "makes for scary reading" if you live in the West, says The Guardian's Decca Aitkenhead. However, it can also be read "as a hymn of praise to China". As Moyo notes, "It took Britain 156 years to double its per-capita income. It took America 57 years, Germany 65 years. It's taken the Chinese 12 and a half years." But there's a darker side to such heady progress. China's government "will and can do pretty much anything to make sure they don't have a recession".

With even departing Premier Wen Jiabao declaring recent growth rates "unsustainable", this is "just the moment for a good China book, soberly assessing the country's prospects", says The Daily Telegraph's David Blair. Sadly, this isn't it.

Winner Take All is "simplistic, poorly written, careless with facts and largely devoid of originality". It is unclear to most observers whether "China is a juggernaut ascending to superpowerdom, or another Japan, condemned to endure long-term stagnation after an investment-fuelled boom".

Yet Moyo does not seem to think this uncertainty "deserves a hearing". Fans of her earlier Dead Aid an attack on the development industry will no doubt snap this up too. But serious students of China should look elsewhere.

Winner Take All: China's Race for Resources and What it Means for Us, by Dambisa Moyo. Published by Allen Lane, £20.

Tim graduated with a history degree from Cambridge University in 1989 and, after a year of travelling, joined the financial services firm Ernst and Young in 1990, qualifying as a chartered accountant in 1994.

He then moved into financial markets training, designing and running a variety of courses at graduate level and beyond for a range of organisations including the Securities and Investment Institute and UBS. He joined MoneyWeek in 2007.