Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

China's Contemporary Role in Africa's Political Economy

Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

China's Contemporary Role in Africa's Political Economy

Article excerpt


In the aftermath of the Cold War and the emergence of globalization, China's economic and political role has gained significant prominence on the world stage. However, Beijing's contemporary presence in the international political economy has attracted distinctive attention from policy makers and media discourse across the globe but more significantly, in the developing geopolitical terrains such as Africa. China now comes only second to the United States of America (USA) in its consumption of oil. Based on current projections, China's demand and consumption of mineral resources is expected to grow exponentially in the foreseeable future, so in an attempt to diversify its source of supply, China has set its sights on Africa as a partner (Abutu 2013).

China's rise as a global actor is often greeted with suspicion, especially in the Western media (e.g Michel, 2008). China is frequently seen as exploiting African economics, while showing little genuine concern for their sustainable economic or political development. Some in the literature point, in particular, to the damaging effects of the influx of cheap Chinese commodities into African markets (Goldstein, et al. 2008; Broadman 2009), the substandard working conditions maintained by many Chinese firms (Lee,2009), and the detrimental ramifications of China's disregard for human rights standards and Beijing's persistent courtship of the continent's "rogue" regimes (Chau 2007; Karumbidza 2007; Brown & Sriram 2009).

In 2006, Beijing declared that China will "...unswervingly carry forward the tradition of China-Africa friendship, and, proceeding from the fundamental interests of both the Chinese and African peoples, establish and develop a new type of strategic partnership with Africa." President Hu Jintao confirmed this sentiment at the Beijing Summit of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in November 2006 (Zhang, C.2013). Still, this relationship has a long way to go. There is now a more balanced development in the political, economic and societal aspects of this relationship than in previous periods, meaning that the time has come for this relationship to transition to a new trend in terms of Africa's international engagement.

This paper explores China's contemporary role in Africa's political and economic de-velopment for the past six decades and its current state, to understand the basic logic of its development and provide a fresh angle of analysis. It then explores the future of this relationship, considering the significant transitions it has taken and the various measures Beijing has adopted throughout. It concludes by discussing the need for strategic thinking in promoting the Sino-Africa relationship and moving to new strategic partnership.


China has a long history of political contact with Africa and the Han Dynasty is credited for having made the first contact with the African continent around AD 759, with further contacts developed under the Ming Dynasty. The fact alone that China never attempted to conquer Africa makes the current ties considered positively. The more recent economic relationship with African countries is neither new, as it can be traced back to the Bandung AsiaAfrica Conference of 1955 which is widely regarded as the foundation of modem day China-Africa relations (Onjala, 2008). Although the economic interactions and cultural exchanges between China and Africa go back many centuries, then contemporary Sino-Africa relationship began with the formal establishment of diplomatic ties with Egypt in 1956. China and Africa have since then become all-weather friends that understand, support and help each other. Fifty-one of the continent's fifty-four countries have established diplomatic ties with China thus far, the most recent being South Sudan in 2011.

China and Africa have shared comprehensive consensus on major international issues, common interests and a willingness to deepen their cooperation. …

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