Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Ugandan Youths' Perceptions of Relations with China

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Ugandan Youths' Perceptions of Relations with China

Article excerpt

Despite endeavoring to construct an image as a contributor to a "harmonious world," China faces criticism for bringing neocolonialism back to Africa. This case study of Uganda offers a quantitative and qualitative basis for examining how young Ugandans understand and interpret "China" and "the Chinese." It also suggests how these perceptions could be applied to Sino-African relations in general and the Beijing-Kampala relationship in particular. KEYWORDS: China-Africa relations, Uganda's foreign relations, sub-Saharan Africa.

CENTRAL TO CURRENT CHINESE FOREIGN POLICY IS THE ATTEMPT TO construct an image of Beijing contributing to a "harmonious world," an approach that springs from the recognition that an interdependent, harmonious world is a precondition for China's peaceful development (Yee 2008). This aspect of Chinese foreign policy has been especially prominent in Beijing's relations with developing countries, including those in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). However, China's activities in Africa have garnered criticism, with allegations of neocolonialist maneuvering by Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and condemnation of Beijing's links with repressive African regimes in Sudan and Zimbabwe often prominent in commentators' critical reviews. Among the accusers are senior politicians in the West and Africa. For instance, Karin Kortmann, parliamentary state secretary in the German Development Ministry, has declared, "Our African partners really have to watch out that they will not be facing a new process of colonization" in their relations with China ("African States Risk" 2006). In December 2006 President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa warned that "the potential danger... was of the emergence of an unequal relationship similar to that which existed in the past between African colonies and the colonial powers. China cannot only just come here and dig for raw materials [but] then go away and sell us manufactured goods" ("Warning Against the New Colonisation of Africa" 2007). Meanwhile, African newspapers debate whether "Africa might be China's next imperial frontier base" ("Africa Might Be China's Next Imperial Frontier, Base" 2007). In response, Chinese academics such as He Wenping claim that "China's behavior in Africa is no worse and, on balance, probably better than that of the West" (He 2007, 29).

How do ordinary Africans themselves view and interpret China's presence in the continent? In particular, before occupations and social status form rigid stereotypes in their minds, how do African youths see China and the Chinese? What, if any, are the implications of these opinions for long-term Chinese engagement with SSA? Taking the East African nation of Uganda as a case study and applying both qualitative and quantitative primary research, this article attempts to investigate how young Ugandans understand and interpret "the Chinese" or "China" in the ideological, economic, cultural, and international contexts. More importantly, we suggest the implications of these perceptions for the future relationship between Beijing and Kampala.

The article is divided into three sections. The first describes our methodology and reviews the literature on Sino-Ugandan relations. The second explores the major findings from our quantitative survey in four key areas, and the third section discusses the implications for the two governments and, by extension, the East African region.

African Perceptions of China and Sino-Ugandan Relations

Projecting a Peaceful Image

Conceptualizing in a few pages how Africans see the role of China in their continent is impossible. To generalize, depending on the identity and position of the person, three key attitudes can, however, be roughly identified. First, since the early twenty-first century, China has started to build on the themes of "harmonious world" (hexie shijie) and "peaceful development" (heping fazhan) in its foreign policy toward Africa (Alden and Hughes 2009). …

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