China and Africa: all about the economy?

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falk.hartig's picture

In December 2012, the newspaper China Daily Africa Weekly was launched as the first English-language newspaper published in Africa by a Chinese media enterprise. China Daily Africa Weekly is the latest addition to the state-run China Daily family that consists of the parent paper China Daily, which is published since 1981 in Mainland China; China Daily Hong Kong, which was founded in 1997; China Daily USA which was launched in 2009; and three other weekly editions. These include China Daily European Weekly and China Daily Asia Weekly, both launched in 2010 and China Daily North America that was also launched in 2012.

Reading the African edition presents some interesting insights into Sino-African relations, but one wonders why the paper focuses so much on business and economics.

On the occasion of the launch of the Africa edition, Zhu Ling, China Daily's publisher and editor-in-chief, noted that the “relationship between China and the African continent is one of the most significant relationships in the world today. It is growing and complex and not always understood - not just by those in other parts of the world but Africans and Chinese, too." Zhu also pointed out, that China Daily Africa hopes“to set that straight, and that is why China Daily […] is launching an Africa edition." According to its mission statement, the state-run paper “will look at the precise nature of Chinese involvement in Africa and also the prominent role many Africans play in China.

However, when reading the printed edition or browsing the paper’s online archive , one cannot escape the impression that the nature of Chinese involvement in Africa is all about business and economic relations. A randomly picked selection of first page stories of the printed editions, by no means a representative sample, illustrates this: The front page of the initial issue states that “as African economic prospects brighten, there is debate about which growth model would best suit its development.” The lead story of the second issue was quite similar and explains that “as China-Africa trade and investment soar, many leaders see relationship as central to continent.” The fourth issue opened with a story which reports that “Chinese companies playing major role in African infrastructure development despite tough conditions.”

More recent issues also focus on the business dimension. Vol.2, No.41 (October 4-10, 2013) opens with a discussion of economic growth models and notes that “African nations must study China’s experience before pressing on”, while the subsequent paper explains how “Chinese companies use sustainable development to chart a new course in Africa.”

The gentle reader may wonder and ask “So what? It’s the economy, stupid!” Of course, this focus on business undeniable reflects one important part of the reality of Sino-African relations. The 2013 White Paper on “China-Africa Economic and Trade Cooperation”, issued by the information office of China's State Council in August, not only points out that China has replaced the US as Africa's largest trade partner, but also that in 2012 China-Africa trade hit $198.5 billion, after annual growth of 19 percent from 2009 and accounting for 16 percent of the continent's trade with the rest of the world. We also know, as colleagues have pointed out in these pages , that there is a growing Chinese presence in Africa’s infrastructure building sector and that China invests 2 billion dollars a year in Africa. And the debates how this economic development may influence Africa are also well documented , mainly referring to the discussion of China as the new “neo-colonialist” .

So that’s all well and good, but as someone being more concerned with the softer, fluffy and intangible matters of China’s presence in Africa , I would highly doubt that this kind of reporting really portrays “the precise nature of Chinese involvement in Africa.”

Yes, of course, it’s the economy, also in Sino-African relations. But there are also other fields of engagement, cooperation and probably tensions that will be discussed in the blog "UNESCO-China-Africa University Cooperation".




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