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The Dragon Wings over Africa: The Case study of China-Africa Relations
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China and Africa have had cordial historical relations since the era of the Ming Dynasty in the 15th century. In modern times, official relations were established between both states after the Revolution of 911, when Sun Yat-sen became president of the Republic of China. After the formation of the People's Republic of China, Chairman Mao established relations with newly independent African states. When the leaders of Africa and China met in Indonesia in April 1955, both agreed to promote peace and economic development between the people of both countries. The golden era of both nations started during the early 2000s when the Forum- China- Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was created. China lent Africa slowly through its go-global diplomacy.

Importance of Africa:

Africa is special; it has enormous natural resources. The United Nations data shows Africa has more than 30% of the world's minerals, 8% of the world's natural gas, and 12% of the world's oil reserves. African countries contain 40% of world gold and 90% of chromium and platinum. More than 70% of the world's cobalt and diamonds are also produced in Africa. It also holds 60% manganese and 30% bauxite.

Economic relations between China and Africa:

China has cordial economic ties with Africa. China is Africa's largest trading partner, largest bilateral creditor, and biggest investor. There are different phases of relations between both nations. Mao's era in China until the late 1970s was driven by the ideology of anti-colonialism. But Deng Xiaoping and his successors carried out economic relations with the continent to achieve a country development goal. From 1949 to the late 1990s, China’s trade with Africa was limited but increased gradually from the early 2000s. The bilateral trade between China and African countries is worth $200 billion, and China has a huge trade surplus. The export of China to Africa is $133 billion, and imports from Africa are $78 billion. The major exports of China are high-tech products, textiles, electronics, and machinery, while the major imports from Africa are iron, platinum, coal, diamonds, gold, and crude oil. China almost exclusively traded with 53 countries on the continent, and two-thirds of China's trade took place with countries located in sub-Saharan Africa. South Africa is the biggest Chinese export market ($16.6 billion), followed by Nigeria ($16.5 billion) and Egypt ($12.2 billion). Angola ($23.3 billion), South Africa ($9.5 billion), and the Republic of Congo ($5.9 billion) are the three biggest exporting countries to China.

China's investment in Africa:

China is the fourth largest investment partner of Africa and accounts for $44 billion, which corresponds to 2% of global Chinese foreign direct investment. Thirty percent of Chinese FDI is spent on infrastructure, and 25 percent goes to the mining sector. The United States of America, with $78 billion, is the top investor on the continent, followed by the United Kingdom, with $65 billion. The Republic of France is the third biggest investor, with $53 billion invested across different African countries.

Chinese companies have a strong monopoly in Africa. Almost 10,000 Chinese enterprises are working in Africa. Chinese firms have owned more than 50 percent of all African construction projects. Congo owned seventy percent of world cobalt reserves, and China successfully grabbed a share of 15 mining companies out of 19 in cobalt extraction from Congo in 2020.

China’s political interest in Africa:

The major Chinese interest in Africa is political. In 1945, the creation of the United Nations made one state-one vote a reality, and the head of the state vote will make or break the situation. Therefore, China wants the 54 African countries on its side in the international forum. China wants to co-opt the Global South, especially Africa. In 1971, all 26 independent African states voted in favor of the People’s Republic of China against Taiwan over a permanent representative seat in the United Nations Security Council. Mao Zedong praised them by calling them brothers. “It is our African brothers who have carried us into the UN.” It’s because of Africa’s support that China enters the international forum. Now, except for Eswaitini and self-declared Somaliland, all other countries in Africa support China’s One-China policy. Chinese nationals head four United Nations agencies, including the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). These four agencies are very crucial for China. With its FAO and UNIDO presidencies, China is convincing the world about its investment in industrial development and industrialization, and its directorates at ICAO and ITU show their interest in technology. China is not only engaging with African governments but African political parties to strengthen its political interests. The International Liaison Department of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP-ILD) works with the Foreign Ministry to establish longstanding relations with foreign political parties. CCP-ILD provides scholarships and study tours to intellectuals of African parties. The CCP has a great influence on the African National Congress (South Africa), the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (Ethiopia), and the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Angola).

China’s ideological interest in Africa:

The Chinese ideology of Confucianism has a deep impact on Chinese society. Chinese people have been linked with Confucianism for almost 2,000 years. While Confucianism teaching doesn’t force people to spread their teaching to the rest of the world, there is also an old Chinese saying: “State-to-state relations thrive when there are friendships between their people.” In the early 2000s, China started expanding its ideology around the world, especially in Africa. Now, according to the State Council Information Office, China has established 61 Confucius institutions and 48 Confucius classrooms on the African continent. Almost 30 African universities have collaborated with the Chinese education ministry and established a Chinese language department. China has sent almost more than 5000 Chinese teachers and volunteers to 48 African countries. Sixteen African countries have incorporated the Chinese language into their educational systems, and more countries are planning to do so. The Chinese language is in high demand on the continent and is considered a viable option for employment. English is still dominant in African nations, but through Confucian institutions, China is providing a serious threat to the use of the English language in Africa and is hoping to replace it in the future.

Challenges for China in Africa:

China is also facing different challenges in Africa, both internally and externally. The West, particularly America, is creating a hurdle for China on the African continent. In 2021, Biden’s administration proposed “Build Back a Better World” (B3W) along with the G7’s countries, strategically a counterpart to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Build Back a Better World will collectively provide hundreds of billions of dollars to low-income countries, including Africa, for infrastructure and health development. Western countries also initiated the project “Ella Link” along with their allies like Australia, Japan, and India to slow down the BRI. Similarly, in 2021, the European Union launched Global Gateway (GG), which persuaded it to be an alternative to China’s “one road, one belt” initiative. The president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that, unlike China, the EU wants to create “links and not dependencies.” Global Gateway will provide €300 billion over the next five years to invest in digital and transport infrastructure in developing countries, especially in Africa and Asia. Similarly, China is also facing internal challenges from Africa due to political instability, and being the home of many militant groups, Chinese workers are facing a security threat. Many Chinese workers were kidnapped by insurgents. In 2015, there were 263 659 Chinese workers in Africa, but that number dropped by 30.7% due to many reasons, but security was the dominant one.


Africa still makes up a small part of the world’s economic growth and population but the future of the continent is bright, Africa can add dynamism to the world and the world economy by investing in human capital and building strong institutions for good governance. The International Monetary Fund predicted that over the next 40 years, one billion potential consumers and producers will be added to the region. Similarly, there are also challenges ahead for African nations because Africa becomes the epicenter of geopolitical tension between China and the West. It would be wise for African countries to prepare for increasing regional development.

Zahid Abbas is an undergraduate of NDU, pursuing his degree in BS IR. He is an intern at Institute of Strategic Studies (ISSI), Islamabad.


  1. https://www.orfonline.org/research/china-in-africa/
  2. http://www.sais-cari.org/data-china-africa-trade
  3. https://www.economist.com/special-report/2022/05/20/how-chinese-firms-have-changed-africa
  4. https://www.unep.org/regions/africa/our-work-africa#:~:text=The continent has 40 percent,internal renewable fresh water sourc.
  5. https://www.unep.org/regions/africa/our-work-africa#:~:text=The continent has 40 percent,internal renewable fresh water source.
  6. http://www.news.cn/english/2021-11/26/c_1310334064.htm
  7. https://issafrica.org/iss-today/taiwan-has-lost-all-its-friends-in-africa-except-eswatini
  8. https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/01/10/europe-china-eu-global-gateway-bri-economic-development/
  9. https://m.economictimes.com/news/international/world-news/china-dominates-un-by-controlling-several-un-bodies-report/articleshow/83080526.cms 
  10. https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/zxxx_662805/202208/t20220819_10745617.html
  11. https://www.chathamhouse.org/2023/01/china-africa-relations
  12. https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/chinas-political-influence-activities-in-sub-saharan-africa/
  13. https://ine.org.pl/en/influence-of-confucianism-on-the-chinese-political-system-a-case-of-social-credit-system-and-socialist-core-values/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=influence-of-confucianism-on-the-chinese-political-system-a-case-of-social-credit-system-and-socialist-core-values
  14. https://www.voanews.com/a/chinese-working-in-africa-face-threat-of-kidnapping/6587697.html


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