Some books on China are epic, they are attempts to explain China itself, they want to give their readers an insight into who China is. Other books have a smaller scope, they are focused on some lesser aspect of China. This doesn’t mean that the books are worse, many books which attempt to explain the China psyche fail and many books which are more focused succeed both in their goal and indirectly in giving insight into the broader Chinese mind. By All Means Necessary: How China’s Resource Quest is Changing the World by Elizabeth C. Economy and Michael Levi is a more focused book where they look at China’s expanding resource needs.
The book focuses on aspects of China’s resource quest which effect the rest of the world. First it looks at the expanding Chinese consumption of natural resources. It contains fascinating examples of how China has changed the international market for resources including the staggering statistic that China alone consumes the large majority of the world market in iron. Second they look at China as a resource supplier. Their most interesting point of view is that China has shown itself to be willing to aggressively use its export markets as a weapon, for example with rare earth metals. Finally it looks as China as an investor in international natural resources. They show that China’s internal corporate management is exported widely, not only in their willingness to work with international pariahs like Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea but also in work conditions, callousness to local economic and political conditions, and obliviousness to internal standards on pollution, corporate transparency, and safety.
I recommend this book along the same lines as Factory Girls – it’s an interesting book which explores an interesting topic. Contrary to the idea that every book has to explain everything about China, By All Means Necessary has the humility to not overreach.