Towards a critical geopolitics of China's engagement with African development

Power, Marcus and Mohan, Giles (2010). Towards a critical geopolitics of China's engagement with African development. Geopolitics, 15(3) pp. 462–495.



China, in its quest for a closer strategic partnership with Africa, has increasingly dynamic economic, political and diplomatic activities on the continent. Chinese leaders and strategists believe that China's historical experience and vision of economic development resonates powerfully with African counterparts and that the long-standing history of friendly political linkages and development co-operation offers a durable foundation for future partnership. Both in China and amongst some Western commentators a form of exceptionalism and generalisation regarding both China and Africa has been emerging. In this article instead we seek to develop theoretical tools for examining China as a geopolitical and geoeconomic actor that is both different and similar to other industrial powers intervening in Africa. This is premised on a political economy approach that ties together material interests with a deconstruction of the discursive or 'extra-economic' ways by which Chinese capitalism internationalises. From there we use this framework to analyse contemporary Chinese engagement in Africa. We examine the changing historical position of Africa within Beijing's foreign policy strategy and China's vision of the evolving international political system, looking in particular at China's bilateral and state-centric approach to working with African 'partners'. Chinese practice is uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the notion of 'development' as an independent policy field of the kind that emerged among Western nations in the course of the 1950s and increasingly China has come to be viewed as a 'rogue creditor' and a threat to the international aid industry. Rather than highlighting one strand of Chinese relations with African states (such as aid or governance) we propose here that it is necessary to critically reflect on the wider geopolitics of China-Africa relations (past and present) in order to understand how China is opening up new 'choices' and altering the playing field for African development for the first time since the neo-liberal turn of the 1980s.

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