China's Winning Africa Policies

China is facing critique from many sides on contractual terms of loans within the giant Belt and Road Initiative. In this text, Dr. Fanwell Kenala Bokosi points to some of the positive aspects of China's policies, offering a perspective on its success in Africa.

Sino-Africa Relations: A non-Western Approach

The question of the Chinese involvement in Africa is controversial depending on who, where and what is the subject of that involvement. According to the Chinese, its relationship with Africa - as defined by former Chinese President Zemin - are based on the principles of "sincere friendship, equality, solidarity, and cooperation, common development and being oriented to the future" (MFA PRC, 2002).

While the debate on Chinese partnerships with Africa is a more recent phenomenon, the relationship is not new. Historically, the emphasis of the relationship was the evocation of political solidarity and a shared sense of identity as fellow third world states, and to present the "Chinese model" of development as a successful one (Alden and Alves, 2008). China positioned itself as an example of a country that can succeed in ensuring economic development and maintain its self-determination.

China's engagement with Africa has evolved and expanded since the end of the Second World War, when it began to develop strong political engagement with African countries, providing ambiguous support to the independence and liberation movements. The type of engagement included financial aid, technological assistance, medical support and scholarships to the African countries. The Chinese model of aid and economic cooperation significantly differed from the Western models, both in terms of content and norms of aid practice. The Chinese believed that Africa's sovereignty must be respected, hence the policy of "non-interference" in national affairs, unlike the Western approach anchored in conditionalities (Power and Mohan, 2008).

Freedom under Chinese Soft Policies

The interest in Africa seemed to have disappeared in the 80’s and 90’s and by 2000, the Chinese redefined its relationship with Africa through the institutionalisation of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.[1] Over the years this has turned out to be the most effective instrument of soft power to establish a fair and mutually beneficial cooperation and a mechanism through which China is coordinating its activities in Africa. While the West was conditioning its support to African countries on reforms, democratisation, and respect of human rights, Chinese officials, as a matter of policy, do not demand any civic norms or respect of values and do not link their engagement to compliance with the policies set forward by the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. For African governments who are in dire need of resources for development, the attraction to China is very strategic. They consider these relationships as win-win as opposed to the master-servant relationships with the West. African governments need Chinese financial resources while the Chinese needs African natural resources.

Western powers have failed to understand that the Chinese new deal is also benefiting the population, or at the very least instilling a positive sentiment towards Beijing for having brought jobs and hope (although this comes at a price for work conditions and the environment). China has managed to fill the void that the West created in Africa when they took the natural resources and then left a hole in the business and development model of the continent. Western powers shied away from Africa when they started perceiving its instability and migration flows as source of troubles for their own societies. Beijing, instead, saw in that very instability an opportunity for business.

A Winning Approach

It is important to recognise that Western approaches to dealing with Africa is based on an idealistic view of good intentions while the Chinese approach is based on objectivity, pragmatism, flexibility and effectiveness (PATTEN, 2009). This has created a consensus in Africa that China is providing what local people need, adopting plans to local conditions, and in the process earning the confidence of African leaders who think that China is a partner with relevant recent experience. (Brautigam, 2009).

The strategic interests of China in Africa are many. China needs energy resources, minerals and agricultural products which are essential for its economic growth and objective of becoming the largest economy in the world. Secondly, Africa with its 1.3 billion population is big market for Chinese products and creates fertile grounds for a model of partnerships that combine aid, trade and investment and in the process giving China greater political influence in African countries. There are also political ambitions that drive Chinese engagement with Africa like its ambitions to be a major international player. Developing a good relationship with Africa provides an opportunity for it to gain political support in regional and international forums.

(i) mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity; (ii) mutual non-aggression; (iii) non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; (iv) equality and mutual benefit; and (v) peaceful coexistence.


Alden, C., and Alves, C. (2008). "History & Identity in the Construction of China’s Africa Policy". Review of African Political Economy No. 115, 43-58.

Brautigam, D. (2009). The Dragon's Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa. New York: Oxford University Press.

Patten, C. (2009). What Next? Surviving the Twenty-first Century, (s.l.), Penguin.

Power, M., and Mohan, G. (2008). “The geopolitics of China’s engagement with African development”. Geopolitics, 15:3, 462-495.

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