China as Africa’s ambiguous ally – why China has a responsibility for Africa’s development

Grimm, Sven
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Stellenbosch University. Centre for Chinese Studies
This paper explores the changing nature of Chinese-African relations in the early 21st century and, in a second step, assesses Chinese responsibilities for African development. Sino-African relations have profoundly changed in character as a consequence of economic policy shifts in China, coming with readjustments in Chinese foreign policy. China is an emerging world power – and increasingly an important partner to African states. The Asian engagement in Africa is not new, and we have seen a small wave of literature on Chinese engagement already in the mid-1970s to early 1980s. Chinese government engagement in Africa is a constant feature since the days of Mao Zedong. Yet, China‟s engagement with Africa with regard to trade, investments, assistance, and – not least – diplomatic activities has been increasing tremendously since 2000. Sino-African relations are becoming more important in their own right, but also as a consequence of the global rise of China. The recent global economic crisis has arguably further accelerated the already rapid change in economic weights in the world, making the shift towards Asia more pronounced. China‟s relationship with Africa is unequal, whatever the rhetoric around it. China is currently the second biggest economy in the world and it is likely to become even stronger, gaining (or regain, in a historical perspective) global economic weight within the next decade or so. One emerging economy, China, is in need of resources and markets as well as political backing for its peaceful global rise on the one side. And on the other side, we find 49 African states with rather small and often fragile economies engaging with China and other external powers. The stark inequality in economic and political weights results in Chinese responsibilities for African development, this paper argues, which is distinct from tutelage or undue interference. While China emphasises its very distinctness from „traditional donors‟ – not least so as this is arguably a cornerstone in its „soft power‟ in Africa – some challenges are, in fact, arising to African economies or societies from China‟s very size. Action as well as inaction in Chinese international and domestic policies will have consequences for development in other parts of the world, not least in Africa. Research on Chinese-African relations is thus quickly becoming similar to the research on other great powers‟ relations with Africa, even if China is both, a great power and a developing country. This paper provides an overview what we know about effects of Chinese engagement on Africa. The diversity of the African setting in mind, this paper will refer to individual cases as examples, aspiring to provide an overview without unduly generalising. The paper aspires to cast a light on aspects where China‟s rise impacts on African development and which we do currently not know enough about. How immediate or intermediate are the effects of Chinese engagement? Which actors do we have to take into account when we speak of "China" as one entity – and who exactly in China has to take responsibilities for African development? The paper explores the state of debate on direct and indirect effects of China‟s global rise on African states and aims at identifying areas of responsibilities for China and for African governments. In conclusion, it casts a light on the policy requirements for African states in their engagement with external powers and gives indications of a research agenda on China‟s growing global reach.
CCS discussion papers should contribute to the academic debate on China’s global rise and the consequences thereof for African development. We do therefore explicitly invite scholars from Africa, China, or elsewhere, to use this format for advanced papers that are ready for an initial publication, not least to obtain input from other colleagues in the field. Discussion papers should thus be seen as work in progress, exposed to (and ideally stimulating) policy-relevant discussion based on academic standards. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author.
The original publication is available at
China -- Emerging economic power, Africa -- Natural resources, China -- Commercial policy -- Africa -- Case studies, International Relations, Emerging Powers, Development, Chinese trade missions -- Africa -- Case studies, Foreign Direct Investment, Centre for Chinese Studies, Inaugural speech (2011 : Stellenbosch, South Africa), Direct foreign investment -- Africa
Grimm, S. 2011. China as Africa’s ambiguous ally – why China has a responsibility for Africa’s development. Discussion Paper. Centre for Chinese Studies: Stellenbosch University.