African Ties May Indicate China’s Soft Power

Answering the question of whether China exerts soft power in the world depends heavily on the point of view of the critic, according to Trefor Moss in The Diplomat: “China has little attractive power – in the West. But then not everyone is watching China through Western eyes,” he writes.  Moss emphasizes China’s relations with Africa to both reassess and challenge Joseph Nye’s theory that China lacks soft power

China’s involvement in Africa is often interpreted as a cynical resource-grab – but mainly by Westerners. In fact, Chinese involvement in Africa – which has mainly taken the form of co-operative development, rather than aid – is much older and more constructive than many people realize. It goes back to the 1950s, long before the advent of Confucius Institutes or the launch of Hu Jintao’s soft-power agenda.

China’s activities in Africa and local attitudes to them have been well documented by Deborah Brautigam in her 2009 book The Dragon’s Gift. Brautigam demonstrates that Africans are generally receptive to China’s developmental approach: they observe with approval one developing country helping another, “the poor helping the poor”; they value the longstanding connections built over decades with their Chinese partners; and they feel that China shows them far more respect than paternalistic Westerners.

The newly published China’s Aid and Soft Power in Africa by Kenneth King, an emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh, focuses more narrowly on China’s educational programs in Africa and finds similar levels of approval among local beneficiaries. King not only documents the teaching of Chinese language in Africa on an increasingly grand scale, but also the thousands of scholarships which send Africans to study at Chinese universities, and the professional seminars which bring thousands of African businesspeople to China for sought-after learning experiences. Once again, these educational efforts are packaged respectfully – they are an attempt to show Africans how China does things, not a means of lecturing Africans about how they should do things.[Source]

However, a blog post in The New Yorker by Alexis Okeowo, “China in Africa: The New Imperialists,” portrays the negative effects of Chinese mining investment in Zambia:

Some Africans have become resentful, though, unhappy with unbalanced relationships in which China has taken proprietorship of African natural resources using Chinese labor and equipment without transferring skills and technology. “China takes our primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism,” Lamido Sanusi, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria wrote in the Financial Times earlier this year.[Source]


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