Curious about China's environmental impact in Africa? See this new piece by Daniel Compagnon and Audrey Alejandro, "China's External Environmental Policy: Understanding China's Environmental Impact in Africa* and How It Is Addressed", Environmental Practice, 15(3), 2013. While we still lack systematic, cross-national evidence on this impact, this article is a good example of the growing trend of scholars doing fieldwork and subjecting the conventional wisdom on Chinese external engagement to the test of evidence. The authors' research suggests that in South Africa, "Chinese companies are as compliant as the Western ones—and perhaps more than Indian companies—when it comes to local law, be it on labor or environmental issues." They emphasize the importance of local African agency in determining environmental outcomes. It also contains a helpful overview of changing policies on the environment and going global, in China.
Article abstract: "Many Chinese economic actors in Africa have come under harsh criticism for the alleged environmental impact of their activities. This impact is not always documented, is uneven across the continent, and should be compared to that of business actors from other countries—in particular
from the OECD. One major factor accounts for the recorded differences: the policy and regulatory framework within which these business actors operate. The African weak state is not conducive to the adoption of robust standards and their subsequent implementation. However, the shift in Chinese policy at home on environmental issues is already producing some changes for the state-owned companies, and there is a growing concern in China’s leading circles about the international image of the nation and its companies turning global."
h/t to Yoon Jung Park. *Update: when I wrote this, the article was accessible free, online. That's apparently no longer the case. Apologies. Thanks to @krizcpec for pointing this out.