African Studies Review

Research Article

Friends and Interests: China's Distinctive Links with Africa

Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong


China's expanded links to Africa have created a discourse of how to characterize those ties. Western political forces and media have criticized every aspect of China's activities in Africa, while Chinese, with significant support from Africans, have mounted a spirited defense. This article examines several factors that make China's links with Africa distinctive, including China's aid and migration policies, the distinctive “Chinese model” of foreign investment and infrastructure loans, and the development model known as the “Beijing Consensus.” It argues that particular aspects of China's links with Africa make the People's Republic of China (PRC) seem a lesser evil than the West in terms of support for Africa's development and respect for African nations.

Barry Sautman is a political scientist and lawyer in the Division of Social Science, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. His research concerns nationalism and ethnic politics in China, as well as China–Africa relations. He is the co-author (with Yan Hairong) of East Mountain Tiger, West Mountain Tiger: China, the West, and “Colonialism” in Africa (University of Maryland Series on Contemporary Asian Studies, 2007).

Yan Hairong teaches in the Department of Applied Social Science, Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Her research interests include rural-to-urban labor migration in China, domestic service, gender, and development, as well as China–Africa links. Her book, New Masters, New Servants: Migration, Development and Women Workers in China, will be published by Duke University Press.