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China and Africa: Policy and Challenges

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China and Africa: Policy and Challenges

Li Anshan

Fifteen years ago, in an article entitled “China and Africa,” Gerald Segal predicted that China, as a rising global power, would be more important to Africa than vice versa – he even surmised that Africa would be the region of least importance to China’s foreign policy.1 A look at current Sino-African relations clearly refutes Segal’s prophesies. In fact, Africa is very important to China. In January 2006, China’s African Policy, the white paper promulgated by the Chinese government was the first of its kind in China’s diplomatic history with Africa. This document embodies a comprehensive and long-term plan for enhanced cooperation in Sino-Africa relations, and it marks a milestone in the progress that China and Africa have made together.

A popular perception in the international community is that the recent rapid developments of the Sino-African relationship have arisen after a long, dormant period, revealing China’s new and potentially unsettling ambitions in Africa. Many Western scholars opine that China neglected Africa in practice in the past30 years, and that its recent comprehensive engagement with the region not only reflects a set of ambitious and unsettling goals on the continent but that a competitive quest for energy, trade and geopolitical interests will underscore that
agenda.2

Such viewpoints stress practical aspects of China’s policy toward Africa, but fail to convey the most important element in Sino-African relations: that the development of the relationship over the past 50 years has been based on “equal treatment, respect for sovereignty and common development.”3 Despite many shifts in the interactions between China and Africa, certain principles have remained constant, underpinning the relationship. To accurately judge China’s strategic considerations in the Sino-Africa relationship, it is important to understand both aspects of continuity and change in China’s policy towards Africa.

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This is a revised version of my speech at the IFIC-JICA Seminar on “China’s Aid to Africa – the Beijing Summit and its Follow-up,” Jan. 29, 2007, Japan International Cooperation Agency, Tokyo, Japan.
1 Segal, Gerald. “China and Africa,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social
Science, Vol. 519 No.1 (January 1992) p.126.
2 “CSIS Prospectus: Opening a Sino-U.S. Dialogue on Africa, 2003;” Muekalia, Domingos Jardo, “Africa and China’s Strategic Partnership,” African Security Review, Vol. 13 No. 1 (2004) p.8.
3 Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, China’s African Policy, published in January 2006.