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Harmony and Discord in China's Africa Strategy: Some Implications for Foreign Policy

  • Chris Alden and Christopher R. Hughes

This article examines the challenges faced by Beijing in managing this increasingly complex relationship, reflecting upon the structural factors that encourage harmony and introduce discord in China–Africa ties. It examines how various policy solutions being considered by China, ranging from increasing participants in the policy-making process to tentative engagement with international development regimes, may still not address the most difficult issues involving adverse reactions to the Chinese presence from African civil societies and political opposition groups. In particular the lack of a strong civil society inside China inhibits the ability of its policy makers to draw on the expertise of the kind of independent pressure groups and NGOs that are available to traditional donor/investor states. The article concludes by asking how the Chinese system can make up for these weaknesses without moving further towards the existing models and practices of the developed countries.

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1 Taylor, Ian, “Beyond the new ‘two whateverisms’: China's ties in Africa,” China aktuell, No. 3 (2008), p. 185.

2 Wendt, Alexander, Social Theory of International Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 246–59.

3 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Zhong–Fei hezuo luntan – Beijing xingdong jihua (2007 zhi 09)” (“Forum on China–Africa Co-operation Beijing Action Plan 2007–09”) (Beijing, 2006),; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Zhong–Fei hezuo luntan Beijing fenghui xuanyan” (“Beijing declaration of the Forum on China–Africa Co-operation”) (Beijing, 2006),; State Council, “Zhongguo dui Feizhou zhengce wenjian” (“Document on China's Africa policy”) (Beijing, 2006),; Hu, Jintao, “Hu Jintao zai Zhong–Fei hezuo luntan Beijing fenghui kaimushi jianghua quan wen” (“Hu Jintao's opening declaration at the China–Africa Forum in Beijing”), 2006,

4 Yi, Yang (ed.), Guoji zhanlüe xingshi fenxi 2006/7 (International Strategic Analysis 2006/7) (Beijing: Shishi chubanshe, 2006), p. 220.

5 State Council Information Office, “Zhongguo de heping daolu” (“China's peaceful development road”) (Beijing, 2005), Chinese version, English version

6 “Beijing declaration of the Forum on China–Africa Co-operation.”

7 Ibid.; “Document on China's Africa policy.”

8 Zhimin, Chen and Jinbo, Jian (2008), “Chinese provinces as foreign policy actors in Africa, Policy Report, No. 12 (2008), China in Africa Project, South African Institute of International Affairs, pp. 1–37.

9 Interviews A, May 2008.

10 Interviews with Chinese researchers on Africa, May 2008.

11 Ministry of Commerce, Government of People's Republic of China, “Nigeria,” April 2007,, accessed 27 July 2008.

12 Large, Dan, “From non-interference to constructive engagement? China's evolving relations with Sudan,” in Alden, Chris, Large, Dan and de Oliveira, Ricardo Soares (eds.), China Returns to Africa: A Rising Power and a Continent Embrace (London: C.R. Hurst, 2008), pp. 275–94.

13 Henkun, Jiang and Jianbo, Luo, “Daerfuer weiji yu Zhongguo zai Feizhou de guojia xingxiang suzao” (“The Darfur crisis and the shaping of China's international image in Africa”), Zhongguo yu shijie (2008), pp. 2842.

14 Ibid. pp. 39–42.

15 Kitissou, Marcel, “Influence of China on governance and human rights in Africa,” The Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 2 (2008) Addis Ababa, African Union Commission, p. 82.

16 Phimister, Ian and Raftopoulos, Brian, “Mugabe, Mbeki and the politics of anti-imperialism,” Review of African Political Economy, No. 1001 (2004), pp. 399400.

17 Alden, Chris and Alves, Ana Cristina, “History and identity in the construction of China's Africa policy,” Review of African Political Economy, No. 115 (2008), pp. 4368.

18 “$9bn loan deal unfair: DRC opposition,” Reuters, 9 May 2008,, accessed 26 July 2008.

19 Mthembu-Salter, Gregory, “Pricing power: China's role in the telecoms sector in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Policy Report, No. 8 (2008), China in Africa Project, South African Institute of International Affairs.

20 Alden, Chris, China in Africa (London: Zed, 2007), pp. 8289.

21 “China oils Nigeria talks with loan,” Financial Times, 23 April 2008.

22 Alden, China in Africa, pp. 72–76.

23 Alves, Ana Cristina, “China and Gabon,” Policy Report, No. 5 (2008), China in Africa Project, Braamfontein, South African Institute of International Affairs, pp. 1719.

24 “Forum on China–Africa Co-operation Beijing Action Plan 2007–09”; “Beijing declaration of the Forum on China–Africa Co-operation”; “Document on China's Africa Policy.”

25 Daniel H. Rosen and Trevor Houser, “China energy: a guide for the perplexed” (Washington, DC: Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2007), p. 29.

26 Michael Sheridan, “Arms ship exposes Robert Mugabe's link to Chinese firm,” The Times, 27 April 2008,

27 South China Morning Post, 19 September 2007.

28 “The changing politics of land in Africa: domestic politics, crisis management and regional norms,” conference proceedings, IFAS-LSE sponsored, University of Pretoria, 28–29 November 2005.

29 The News (Monrovia), 23 April 2008. According to this report, all of the China–Africa Development Fund is earmarked for agricultural investment (which does not seem correct).

30 China Business News, 23 July 2008.

31 Yoon Jung Park, “Chinese Migration in Africa,” Policy Report, No. 13 (forthcoming), China in Africa Project, South African Institute of International Affairs, pp. 7–8; Wu, Yuan, China and Africa: 1956–2006 (Beijing: China Intercontinental Press, 2006), p. 110.

32 Non-systematic surveys of Chinese migrants in South Africa conducted January 2008.

33 Clarke, Simon, Smith, Michael and Wild, Franz, “Young workers, deadly mines,” Bloomberg Markets (2008).

34 Riaan Meyer and Chris Alden, “Banking on Africa: the role of Chinese financial institutions in Africa,” Policy Report, No. 7 (forthcoming), China in Africa Project, South African Institute of International Affairs.

35 “Li Zhaoxing discusses Chairman Hu Jintao's successful tour of friendship and cooperation,” Xinhua, 11 February 2007,

36 Shiming Zhan, “Luxing qiye shehui zeren cujin ZhongFei gongtong fazhan” (“Put into practice corporate social responsibility to facilitate the common development of China and Africa”), No. 7 (2008), pp. 63–66.

37 In the first two months of 2005 SEPA shut down 30 large industrial projects, including several power plants.

38 China Daily, 25 January 2008.

40 Carol Lancaster, “The Chinese aid system,” Centre for Global Development, June 2007, p. 5,

41 Ibid. pp. 3–5.

42 “The Global Compact in the PR China,” United Nations Global Compact,

44 For a critical view see the remarks on the Global Compact made by Jeremy Hobbs of Oxfam, “Speaking notes for Global Compact, Geneva, 5 July,”

45 Recently the most notorious case is that of Sanlu Corporation, a dairy products manufacturer exempted from government safety checks because of its high standing, which supplied contaminated products on to the domestic and international markets, including poisoned baby formula, for several months until action was taken by the Chinese authorities under pressure from the New Zealand government in September 2008.

46 Stern, Nicholas, Dethier, Jean-Jacques and Rogers, F. Halsey, Growth and Empowerment: Making Development Happen (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), p. 310.

47 For a recent evaluation of the NGO situation see Zhang Ye, “China's emerging civil society,” The Brookings Institution, 2003, See also Baogang, He, The Democratic Implications of Civil Society in China (New York: St Martin's Press, 1997); Saich, Tony, “Negotiating the state: the development of social organisations in China,” The China Quarterly, No. 161 (2000); GuobinYang, , “Environmental NGOs and institutional dynamics in China,” The China Quarterly, No. 181 (2005), pp. 4666.

48 Guoli Liu, “Emerging civil society and foreign policy of a rising China,” paper delivered at the 101st Political Science Association Conference, Washington, DC, 1–4 September 2005,, pp. 7–8.

49 Lancaster, “The Chinese aid system,” p. 5.

50 Confidential discussion with Chinese officials.

51 “Spiegel interview with China's Deputy Minister of the Environment: ‘The Chinese miracle will end soon’,” Spiegel, 7 March 2005,,1518,345694,00.html.

52 “Mainland official hails bloody riots as a sign of democracy: vice-minister says protests inevitable as country undergoes huge changes,” South China Morning Post, 4 July 2005.

53 Lixin Jia, “Chinese civil society after the 512 earthquake,” Policy Forum Online, Nautilus Institute,

54 “Forum on China–Africa Co-operation Beijing Action Plan 2007–09.”

55 Ogunsanwo, A., China's Policy in Africa: 1958–1974 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), p. 267.

56 See for example the reported view of Jiang Hengkun of Zhejiang Normal University at the conference, that China should take more action to settle the crisis in Darfur if it claims to be a responsible actor in world affairs. “What do Chinese scholars know about Africa?” Pambazuka News, 20 November 2008,, accessed 15 April 2009.

57 Beiyang Ye, “Tuanjie yiqie liliang fan ‘du’ cu tong,” Tongyi luntan (Reunification Forum), No. 3 (2008), p. 2.

58 “South–south co-operation in economic globalization: a speech by Mr Hu Deping, vice-president of All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, vice-president of China Society for the Promotion of GuangCai Program, president of China–Africa Business Council,”

59 Abbas, Hakima, “African and Chinese CSOs discuss Africa in China,” Pambazuka News, No. 306 (2007),

60 Stahl, Stefan, “Towards China's integration into the aid donor architecture: learning from Chinese participation in international regimes,” China aktuell, No. 3 (2008), pp. 130–64.

61 Ibid. p. 147.

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