Since the late 1960s, China has gradually gained prominence on the world stage, first politically, but increasingly also economically and culturally. One of the most eye-catching developments in this respect is China’s focus on Africa. Although China developed an ‘Africa policy’ since the early 1950s, focusing on political support and cultural collaboration, it is especially China’s economic development (‘Go Global’) since the 1990s that explains this Africa focus. In the past five years, China’s Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI) has paved the way for an even more prominent Chinese presence in Africa.
China’s Africa policy emphasizes the logic of a “win-win partnership” among developing countries, featuring China’s own experience in development as well as its much-vaunted “non-interference in domestic affairs” policy. Spearheading this policy, Chinese enterprises have been awarded major contracts in the continent, mainly in the fields of transport and seaport infrastructure, the energy sector, and mining activities. This enhanced presence of China in Africa not only impacts local societies, economies and cultures, but it also has important implications for the economic and political relations of the African nations with Europe and the United States.
Not only is China strengthening its presence in Africa, but also the African presence in China is gaining importance. Over the last couple of decades, Africa has been participating intensely in the Chinese economy, for instance by African traders and their direct interaction with Chinese manufacturers (in places like Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Yiwu). These traders have complemented the communities of African students in China who have shifted their fields of study from medical studies in the 1980s, to more commercially oriented studies, in this attracted by future job opportunities provided through the framework of China’s BRI. This diversified student population not only raises questions with regard to curriculum building, but also touches upon the issue of cultural integration, an area of concern that already existed with regard to the African merchant communities in China’s big cities.
Related to the attractiveness of China for Africans, further, is the issue of China’s growing soft power (the use of cultural, educational, and diplomatic tools) to highlight the opportunities China offers for Africa.
It is clear that ‘China in Africa, Africa in China’ touches upon a range of economic, cultural, political, and educational issues that play an important role in the daily lives of Chinese and African local communities, and a series of political, economic, and geopolitical issues that concern the world order as we know it today.
This relationship between Africa and China and in particular the impact this collaboration has on local structures is the focus of this conference.
ECDPM’s Geert Laporte will be speaking on ‘China and Europe in Africa: Where can the von der Leyen Commission make a difference?’.