European fear of ‘missing out’ and narratives on China in Africa

This paper looks at the evolving relationship between China and the African continent, at European perceptions about China-Africa relations and how this influences the EU’s relations with African partners, and at African perspectives on the evolving relations with China.

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    This note debunks some of the dominant myths surrounding Chinese engagement in Africa and unpacks the evolving relationship between China and the African continent. It starts by looking closer at common European perceptions about China-Africa relations. It then provides a brief sketch of the historical underpinnings of China’s engagement in Africa. Afterwards, it looks at how the notion of competition with rising global powers like China has influenced the EU’s relations with African partners. Finally, African perspectives on the evolving relations with China are discussed, followed by a conclusion.


    ·      Africa has attracted a lot of attention in recent decades. China’s rising footprint in the continent has resulted in increased engagement from other global powers, including the EU, leading to a ‘competition’. It needs to be leveraged to speed progress on the continent.

    ·      The COVID-19 pandemic adds yet another layer to the already complex topic of China’s foreign policy. But it also offers an opportunity to carefully examine some of the dominant narratives on China-Africa and also appreciate the perspectives on the African side.

    ·      Prevailing myths of Chinese engagement in Africa represent a caricatured view which is neither nuanced nor does justice to the wide range of experiences in this rapidly evolving relationship.

    ·      The perceived need by the EU to rebalance relations with Africa is inexorably linked to the increased competition of interests in the continent, coming especially from China.

    ·      In these debates, however, African countries should not be viewed as silent spectators as competition between world powers unfolds. They are keen to avoid getting caught in these rivalries, but have strategic levers at hand to push competing powers to cooperate for the development of their continent.

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