Course Overview

Among the fulcrum points of modern international relations scholarship, the relations between China and (crucially, some of) the more than 52 countries that make up Africa is among the most closely watched. Critics and defenders alike cannot say enough about Beijing’s ties with the continent; what Yu (1968: 1026 [in Large, 2008, 45]) long ago termed “the dragon in the bush” phenomenon. In this course, we will attempt to give the scope of China’s engagement with Africa through looking at the following questions and dilemmas:

(1) what are the histories and key characteristics of the China-Africa relationship?;

(2) is China’s engagement with Africa neo-colonial?;

(3) is the relationship between the two entities mutually beneficial?;

(4) what characterises China’s policy of non-intervention in Africa, if there is indeed such a policy?;

(5) is democracy being promoted or being undermined in Africa by China?;

(6) what is the impact of China’s historical relationship with Africa today?;

(7) what are the institutions and frameworks which guide and espouse the relationship?

Course Units

1. Understanding China

Prior to engaging with the various issues in Africa-China relations, it is critical for us to gain a deep understanding of China itself. Thus the first theme in the course is to ensure that students gain a understanding of the various aspects of China, the rulers of China and the nature of Chinese governance under the Chinese Communist Party.

Core themes:

  1. Histories, Philosophies, Evolution
    1. Late Qing (1800s-1912), Republican era (1912-1949), People’s Republic (1949-present)
    2. Opening up period (1970s)
  • China rising (1990s-present)
  1. Economy
    1. World’s manufacturer
    2. Low-cost labour
  2. Broad foreign policy objectives
    1. Debates
      1. Peaceful Rise vs China Threat Theory
    2. Communist Party structure

Suggested bibliography

Peng, Lu (2014) Pre-1949 Chinese IR: an occluded history, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 68:2, 133-155, DOI: 10.1080/10357718.2013.861385

Sun, Jing (2017) Growing Diplomacy, Retreating Diplomats – How the Chinese Foreign Ministry has been Marginalized in Foreign Policymaking, Journal of Contemporary China, 26:105, 419-433, DOI: 10.1080/10670564.2016.1245895

Zhang, Qingmin (2014) Towards an Integrated Theory of Chinese Foreign Policy: bringing leadership personality back in, Journal of Contemporary China, 23:89, 902-922, DOI: 10.1080/10670564.2014.882566

Communist party structure: Figures 1 and 2.

2. Understanding Africa

Upon gaining an understanding of China, the students ought to then get an insight onto the broad backgrounds and issues of African countries themselves in as contemporary sense as possible. In this, it is critical that students gain depth on the particulars of a handful of African countries as well as the key organisations and institutions through which they conduct their continental policies.

Core themes:

  1. Histories
  2. Economic profiles and structures
  3. Interaction with the international order
  4. Challenges and opportunities
  5. Institutions

Suggested bibliography

Bach, Daniel C. (2013) Africa in international relations: The frontier as concept and metaphor, South African Journal of International Affairs, 20:1, 1-22, DOI: 10.1080/10220461.2013.783283

Graham, Suzanne (2017) Drivers of the Foreign Policies of Southern African Small States, Politikon, 44:1, 133-155, DOI: 10.1080/02589346.2017.1279802

Khadiagala, Gilbert M. (2010) Two moments in African thought: ideas in Africa’s international relations, South African Journal of International Affairs, 17:3, 375-386, DOI: 10.1080/10220461.2010.533532

Kopiński, Dominik (2015) The international relations of Sub-Saharan Africa, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 33:3, 423-426, DOI: 10.1080/02589001.2015.1075945

Masters, Lesley (2011) Sustaining the African common position on climate change: international organisations, Africa and COP17, South African Journal of International Affairs, 18:2, 257-269, DOI: 10.1080/10220461.2011.588825

Pella, John Anthony (2015) International Relations in Africa before the Europeans, The International History Review, 37:1, 99-118, DOI: 10.1080/07075332.2013.879914

Souaré, Issaka K (2010) Interrogating the seriousness of African leaders: Discrepancies in adhering to international and continental initiatives, African Security Review, 19:1, 95-100, DOI: 10.1080/10246021003736682

3. Africa-China Relations in Historical Context

History casts a long shadow. Africa and China have a lengthy set of relations that date back to the pre-colonial era, and the People’s Republic of China played a major role in helping Africa emerge from colonialism in the 20th century. At the same time, how we understand and situate the praises and criticisms heaped on Africa-China relations is necessarily informed by histories – is China a neo-colonial power as some have suggested, or is it a fellow former colonial entity in pursuit of solidarity with the continent?

Core themes:

  1. Precolonial contacts
  2. Anti-colonial struggle case studies
  3. Grand narratives revisited
  4. South-South cooperation or neo-colonialism?

Suggested bibliography

Mwagiru, Makumi (2013) The diplomacy of partition revisited: African−Asian relations and the economic diplomacy of security, Africa Review, 5:2, 148-159, DOI: 10.1080/09744053.2013.855359

Naidu, Sanusha, Corkin, Lucy & Herman, Hayley (2009) China’s (Re)-Emerging Relations with Africa: Forging a New Consensus?, Politikon, 36:1, 87-115, DOI: 10.1080/02589340903155419

Suzuki, Shogo (2013) The exceptional state in Africa: Image management in Sino-African relations, South African Journal of International Affairs, 20:1, 99-115, DOI: 10.1080/10220461.2013.779885

Taylor, Ian (2000) The Ambiguous Commitment: The People’s Republic of China and the Anti-Apartheid Struggle in South Africa, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 18:1, 91-106, DOI: 10.1080/025890000111986

4. The Contours of Africa-China Relations

The true nature of relations between Africa and China manifests itself in the form of four distinct but interrelated phenomenon; trade, investment, aid, and people-to-people relations (a topic so intriguing that it will form its own special lecture). What are some of the discernible patterns and narratives around Chinese investment, and is trade between the two entities fair? Moreover, what ‘type’ of African country do Chinese state-owned enterprises mostly invest in? And what goods and services flow to and fro these entities?

Core themes:

  1. Economic
    1. Aid
    2. Trade
  • Investment
  1. Political and diplomatic interactions

Suggested bibliography

Alves, Ana Cristina (2013) China’s ‘win-win’ cooperation: Unpacking the impact of infrastructure-for-resources deals in Africa, South African Journal of International Affairs, 20:2, 207-226, DOI: 10.1080/10220461.2013.811337

Anthony, Ross (2016) Africa and China – How Africans and their governments are shaping relations with China, South African Journal of International Affairs, 23:2, 245-247, DOI:



Kiala, Carine (2010) China–Angola aid relations: strategic cooperation for development?, South African Journal of International Affairs, 17:3, 313-331, DOI: 10.1080/10220461.2010.533528


Yi-Chong, Xu (2014) Chinese State-owned Enterprises in Africa: ambassadors or freebooters?, Journal of Contemporary China, 23:89, 822-840, DOI: 10.1080/10670564.2014.882542


5. Non-Interference Revisited

Whereas Western institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have invested and granted aid to Africa explicitly in exchange for certain structural adjustments/conditions, Chinese investment has been praised – and criticised – for its apparent lack of interference in African political arrangements and interfaces. Indeed, this is the pronounced guiding principle in China’s Africa Policy documentation. Moreover, the notion of a South-South cooperation between two former colonised entities (the subject of previous and future lectures in some consequence or another), would seem to lend further credibility to this notion. Yet upon closer inspection, the phenomenon seems to be more complicated and nuanced that the official claims. The practical applications of this principle are interrogated in this theme.

Core themes:

  1. The evolution of China, and Africa-China relations
  2. The rise of China as a determinant of foreign policy perceptions

Suggested bibliography

Hodzi, Obert, Hartwell, Leon & de Jager, Nicola (2012) ‘Unconditional aid’: Assessing the impact of China’s development assistance to Zimbabwe, South African Journal of International Affairs, 19:1, 79-103, DOI: 10.1080/10220461.2012.670435

Okolo, Abutu Lawrence (2015) China’s Foreign Policy Shift in Africa: From Non-Interference to Preponderance, International Journal of African Renaissance Studies – Multi-, Inter and Transdisciplinarity, 10:2, 32-47, DOI: 10.1080/18186874.2015.1107976

6. China and African Human Security

For a variety of reasons, Africa is a continent prone to outbreaks of violence, at the same time as China becomes firmly entrenched (and has both capital and human resource invested) in the continent, it needs measures in place to guarantee returns on its investment; at the same time, as a member of the international community with pronounced networks of obligation, China has a role to play in providing human security to afflicted corners of the continent. This theme explores the nature and character of Chinese peacekeeping and human security provision in Africa.


Core themes:

  1. Rethinking security
  2. China and the threat of violence

Suggested bibliography

Huang, Chin-Hao (2011) Principles and Praxis of China’s Peacekeeping, International Peacekeeping, 18:3, 257-270, DOI: 10.1080/13533312.2011.563554

Rupiya, Martin R. (2017) China’s Soft-power Status (via UN Peacekeeping) and its Implications for the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), UJCI Africa-China Occasional Paper Series, Issue 1.

Singh, Prashant Kumar (2011) China’s ‘Military Diplomacy’: Investigating PLA’s Participation in UN Peacekeeping Operations, Strategic Analysis, 35:5, 793-818, DOI: 10.1080/09700161.2011.591252

Taylor, Ian (2015) China’s Response to the Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa, The Round Table, 104:1, 41-54, DOI: 10.1080/00358533.2015.1005362


7. The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), One Belt One Road (OBOR) and the Multilateral Dimension in Africa-China Relations

China is a nation of grand schemes and long-term global aims, and with a saturated purse to match, it has an unmatched power to bring these about. Situating Africa in these will be the focus of this theme.

Core themes:

  1. Win-win promulgation?
  2. Agenda-setting in Africa-China relations
  3. The actuality of a singular African interface

Suggested bibliography

Chen, Huiping (2016) China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative and its implications for Sino-African investment relations, Transnational Corporations Review, 8:3, 178-182, DOI: 10.1080/19186444.2016.1233722

Ehizuelen, Michael Mitchell Omoruyi (2017): More African countries on the route: the positive and negative impacts of the Belt and Road Initiative, Transnational Corporations Review, DOI: 10.1080/19186444.2017.1401260

Scarlett Cornelissen (2012) TICAD’s Directives for Southern Africa: Promises and Pitfalls, Japanese Studies, 32:2, 201-218, DOI: 10.1080/10371397.2012.708398

Zhang, Xin (2017) Chinese Capitalism and the Maritime Silk Road: A World- Systems Perspective, Geopolitics, 22:2, 310-331, DOI: 10.1080/14650045.2017.1289371

Asia Africa Growth Corridor: Partnership for Sustainable and Innovative Development: A Vision Document

8. China-Africa-BRICS Relations

The BRICS association, admittedly dominated by China, would seem to present a much-needed counterweight to an excessively Western-dominated world order, and with that some multilateralism. But is BRICS a win for Africa? And to what extent are BRICS promises kept? And to what extent is there a singular BRICS Africa policy?

Core themes:

  1. Are BRICS representative of the global South?
  2. How much does Africa feature in the BRICS’ agenda?

Suggested bibliography

Bradley, Alison (2016) China and South Africa: Emerging Powers in an Uncomfortable Embrace, Journal of Contemporary China, 25:102, 881-892, DOI: 10.1080/10670564.2016.1184900

Cheng, Joseph Y.S. (2015) China’s Approach to BRICS, Journal of Contemporary China, 24:92, 357-375, DOI: 10.1080/10670564.2014.932518

Kamwengo, Cynthia M. (2017) China and Brazil as Southern Africa’s Non- Interfering Development Partners: Rhetoric or Reality?, Journal of Southern African Studies, 43:5, 1087-1101, DOI: 10.1080/03057070.2017.1343014

Lee, Pak K. & Chan, Lai-Ha (2016) China’s and India’s perspectives on military intervention: why Africa but not Syria?, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 70:2, 179-214, DOI: 10.1080/10357718.2015.1121968

McCormick, Dorothy (2008) China & India as Africa’s New Donors: The Impact of Aid on Development, Review of African Political Economy, 35:115, 73-92, DOI: 10.1080/03056240802011501

Schoeman, Maxi (2011) Of BRICs and Mortar: The Growing Relations between Africa and the Global South, The International Spectator, 46:1, 33-51, DOI: 10.1080/03932729.2011.549753

Thakur, Ramesh (2014) How representative are BRICS?, Third World Quarterly, 35:10, 1791-1808, DOI: 10.1080/01436597.2014.971594

9. Africa and China in the United Nations (UN)

The United Nations is an important and powerful institution; and China, as a United Nations Security Council permanent member, possesses an important position within it; and Africa, as an occupier of three seats in the Security Council at any given time (albeit on a rotating basis), and as a possessor of more than 50 seats in the UN General Assembly, has a potentially powerful leverage point. At the same time, Africa, as poor and pocketed with areas of incipient violence, needs the UN both as a provider of development assistance and peacekeeping – all the while without too much external preponderance, lest they lend themselves to dependency and external agenda-setting. What is the nature of Africa-China interaction in the UN? And does it prove beneficial for both entities?

Core themes:

  1. Global reform
  2. China, African development and the United Nations

Suggested bibliography

Aurégan, Xavier (2017) The Millennium Development Goals and Chinese involvement in French-speaking West Africa: which contributions for which issues?, African Geographical Review, 36:2, 200-215, DOI: 10.1080/19376812.2016.1171155

Fung, Courtney J. (2016) Global South solidarity? China, regional organisations and intervention in the Libyan and Syrian civil wars, Third World Quarterly, 37:1, 33-50, DOI: 10.1080/01436597.2015.1078230

Hirono, Miwa & Lanteigne, Marc (2011) Introduction: China and UN Peacekeeping, International Peacekeeping, 18:3, 243-256, DOI: 10.1080/13533312.2011.563070

Jonathan Oshupeng Maseng & Frank Gadiwele Lekaba (2014) United Nations Security Council reform and the dilemmas of African continental integration, African Security Review, 23:4, 395-404, DOI: 10.1080/10246029.2014.948896

Zhengyu, Wu & Taylor, Ian (2011) From refusal to engagement: Chinese contributions to peacekeeping in Africa, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 29:2, 137-154, DOI: 10.1080/02589001.2011.555190

10. The Africa-China-US nexus

While China has increasingly become Africa’s major partner, another major power has a presence on the continent – the United States of America. This lends itself to a triadic scenario in which Africa is a potential benefactor or victim. This theme is to flesh out the practical situation on the ground as Africa increasingly plays host to two strong states, who, though commercially intimate, do not seem to share a world vision. Is cooperation or conflict foreseeable in the future? How, if at all, can Africa extract benefit from these presences?

Core themes:

  1. Scramble for Africa?
  2. Distal implications:
    1. South China Sea
    2. US presence in the Pacific/’China’s neighbourhood’

Suggested bibliography

Chan, Lai-Ha (2017) Soft balancing against the US ‘pivot to Asia’: China’s geostrategic rationale for establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 71:6, 568-590, DOI: 10.1080/10357718.2017.1357679

Hirono, Miwa & Suzuki, Shogo (2014) Why Do We Need ‘Myth-Busting’ in the Study of Sino–African Relations?, Journal of Contemporary China, 23:87, 443-461, DOI: 10.1080/10670564.2013.843889

Klare, Michael & Volman, Daniel (2006) America, China & the Scramble for Africa’s Oil, Review of African Political Economy, 33:108, 297-309, DOI: 10.1080/03056240600843048

Ndzendze, Bhaso (2017) ‘Implications of the US-Led War on Terror on Africa-China Relations’, UJCI Africa-China Occasional Paper Series, Issue 4

11. Africa-China Relations and the Environment

Development is essentially the conquering of nature by humankind. But wherever in the world it has been achieved, industrialisation seems to bring about dilemmas regarding the environment. China and Africa are no exceptions to this. This theme explores the manifestation and potential correctives to this problem.

Core themes:

  1. The necessary cost of development?
  2. The politics of climate change
  3. Corrective measures?

Suggested bibliography

Fanie Herman (2017): The Forum on China–Africa Cooperation: towards a path of regime formation in environmental conservation, Africa Review, DOI: 10.1080/09744053.2017.1405871

Liu, Jianguo & Raven, Peter H. (2010) China’s Environmental Challenges and Implications for the World, Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology, 40:9-10, 823-851, DOI: 10.1080/10643389.2010.502645


12. Africa-China People-to-People Relations

Relations between states are nominally underlined by, or bring about, relations between the peoples who populate those respective entities if they are to prove sustainable and self-reproducing; what some scholars have called the “downstairs dimension” of international relations.

Suggested bibliography

Berndt, Christian (2014) Changing Markets from Below: Trade and the Movement of People between China and Africa, Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift – Norwegian Journal of Geography, 68:3, 193-194, DOI: 10.1080/00291951.2014.904408

Dollar, David (2016) ‘Chapter 5: Chinese Workers and Labor Issues in Africa’, pp. 72-88. In: China’s Engagement with Africa From Natural Resources to Human Resources by Dollar, David, Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institute.

Gagliardone, Iginio (2013) China as a persuader: CCTV Africa’s first steps in the African mediasphere, Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies, 34:3, 25-40, DOI: 10.1080/02560054.2013.834835

Okolo, Abutu Lawrence & Akwu, Joseph O. (2016) China’s foreign direct investment in Africa’s land: hallmarks of neo-colonialism or South–South cooperation?, Africa Review, 8:1, 44-59, DOI: 10.1080/09744053.2015.1090662

Wang, Fei-Ling & Elliot, Esi A. (2014) China in Africa: presence, perceptions and prospects, Journal of Contemporary China, 23:90, 1012-1032, DOI: 10.1080/10670564.2014.898888

Musanga, Terrence (2017) Perspectives of Zimbabwe–China relations in Wallace Chirumiko’s ‘Made in China’ (2012) and NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names (2013), Journal of African Cultural Studies, 29:1, 81-95, DOI: 10.1080/13696815.2016.1201654

13. The “Chinese Model” and African development

As a continent battling with rampant poverty, Africa is said to have a lot of lessons to learn from China, a country which has managed to pull 700 million people out of similar conditions in a very compressed space of time. Some observers indeed also note that a transfer of skills and technical know-how from China to Africa is already taking place. Further, and not completely unrelated, as the cost of manufacturing in China is estimated to be increasing, Africa is slated to be poised to be “the next China”. As scholars of International Relations we are naturally curious as to what this Chinese model is, and to what extent any developmental model can be transferred from one geographical and political setting to another.

Core themes:

  1. The nature of the Chinese model
  2. Technology and skills transfer from China to Africa

Suggested bibliography

Davies, Martyn (2008) China’s Developmental Model Comes to Africa, Review of African Political Economy, 35:115, 134-137, DOI: 10.1080/03056240802021450

Lawther, Isaac (2017) Why African countries are interested in building agricultural partnerships with China: lessons from Rwanda and Uganda, Third World Quarterly, 38:10, 2312-2329, DOI: 10.1080/01436597.2017.1333889

Li, Anshan (2016) Technology transfer in China–Africa relation: myth or reality, Transnational Corporations Review, 8:3, 183-195, DOI: 10.1080/19186444.2016.1233718

Qobo, Mzukisi & le Pere, Garth (2017): The Role of China in Africa’s Industrialization: The Challenge of Building Global Value Chains, Journal of Contemporary China, DOI: 10.1080/10670564.2018.1389016

Rangasamy, Logan & Swanepoel, Jan Abraham (2011) China’s impact on South African trade and inflation, Development Southern Africa, 28:1, 141-156, DOI: 10.1080/0376835X.2011.545175

Zongwe, Dunia P. (2015) All Eyes on Xi: the Chinese 60 Billion Dollar Question and the Problematic of African Development, Transnational Corporations Review, 7:4, 395-410, DOI: 10.5148/tncr.2015.7402