Shaping The Future of Power: Knowledge Production and Network-Building in China-Africa Relations

How do rising powers increase and exercise their influence in Africa? Looking at China’s foreign policy in Africa, one might be compelled to strictly think about China’s military base in Djibouti or Chinese investments in natural resources and infrastructure projects. However, I argue that there is a whole other side to China-Africa relations that is very important to understand yet often gets neglected. The Chinese government spends millions of dollars on professionalization trainings, elite visits, party-to-party relations, and cultural exchanges with African partners. Chinese universities have become the top destination for thousands of Africans seeking higher education degrees. Even when Chinese financial loans to Africa decreased in 2018, pledges to provide scholarships, training opportunities, and exchange visits increased.

These visits and trainings are beneficial to China’s foreign policy makers in three major ways. First, they allow Chinese diplomats to showcase China’s development model to many delegations of civil servants from African countries. There is an opportunity for China’s expertise and know-how to shine. African visitors are impressed with China’s level of development and success story turning things around from being an underdeveloped country just five decades ago to becoming the world’s second largest economy. Second, sponsoring exchange visits for African partners allows Chinese diplomats, journalists, and military attachés to expand their personal and professional networks with current and future African elites. This social capital, for example, is what got China to win the United Nations Security Council seat back from Taiwan in the 70s. it is valuable to keep that social capital strong. Third, bringing delegations of African government personnel and military attaches is an opportunity for China to market its equipment, software, military hardware, and technology to a huge market. China is slowly becoming a giant technology supplier to African countries.

This book is about how these people-centered investments matter to thinking about power in international politics.