China in Africa

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China has become a crucial player in African development. Often caricatured, Chinese presence in Africa is not limited to exploiting the natural resources needed for its economic growth. It is a continent wide open to foreign investors, where social, safety, and environmental standards are generally non-existent or not complied with; it therefore serves as a springboard for the internationalization of Chinese companies, both public and private. These compete with Western companies in all sectors (mining, construction and public works, telecoms, etc.), where they gain experience with international competition so as to tackle markets in developed countries. Their action coordinates effectively with that of the Chinese government which, for its part, is seeking to reinforce its diplomatic influence: in exchange for privileged access to mining resources for Chinese companies, the state extends loans to African countries that are then used to build infrastructure courtesy of Chinese companies.

For African countries, access to this financial boon with no strings attached in terms of governance (unlike aid granted by international financial institutions (IFIs) and Western countries, even if their conditions are often very selective) is a godsend. Although it is criticized, often rather hypocritically, by Western countries whose support for corrupt authoritarian regimes has never really ceased despite their virtuous words, the growing Chinese presence in Africa is contributing to a development of infrastructure that is unprecedented since decolonization. This presence is nevertheless being increasingly rejected by local African populations. As well as contributing to the destruction of craftsmanship through the import of cheap Chinese products (particularly textiles), Chinese companies are accused of not respecting environmental and social norms. They are blamed for bringing in large numbers of Chinese workers, including unqualified ones, who are usually self-sufficient: there are therefore few spinoffs for the local economy, particularly where jobs are concerned.

China in Africa: a growing influence

Sources: AidData, 2017, Global Chinese Official Finance Dataset, Version 1.0, ; Hanban, ; Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs,

Comment: China gives “aid” – which does not correspond to the criteria for official development assistance – to many African countries: Nigeria, Angola, Ghana or Ethiopia primarily. Although diplomatic links with the People’s Republic of China go back a long way (before the 1980s for half of African states), the Confucius Institutes, of which there were about fifty in 2017, were created over the course of the last decade.

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" China in Africa " World Atlas of Global Issues, 2018, [online], accessed on Mar 15 2021, URL:

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