China via Africa

Opinion By: Slobodan Popovic

PhD Candidate, University of Belgrade, Faculty of Political Sciences
May 31, 2023

The opinions expressed in this commentary are my own.

Achieving the goals of the Two Centenary and making the “China Dream” almost a reality, China is assuming the position of the representative of both the developing and developed world, that is, the South and North. This kind of Chinese foreign policy behaviour could be analysed as the Chinese ambition to take advantage of both the South and North and to make itself as the bridge between those two spheres. 

By taking this identity role, China is pursuing the behaviour course of a country which has the required level and magnitude of capacities of hard and soft power to achieve interconnectedness not just between the South and North but also between the East and West. With the purpose to achieve this kind of goal and to be accepted as a benevolent superpower whose development will be perceived as a direct contribution to global development, i.e., achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations, China has initiated many transformative, interregional and intercontinental bilateral and multilateral (geo)political, (geo)economy, and security initiatives of people-to-people diplomacy. Through these initiatives, China is vigorously trying to make new partnerships as a solid platform for rebutting doubts about Chinese national ambitions. Accordingly, some countries and organizations are insisting that Chinese initiatives lack transparency, and are not based on the democratic values defined by the West. 

In the same context, they emphasize that the Chinese win-win cooperation represents the realization of the Chinese self-interests. Making the balance to the Chinese non-transparent multilateralism and alleged re-evoking Sino-centric world order, G7 countries in their last meeting announced the “Build Back Better World” (B3W) plan as a values-driven, high-standard, and transparent infrastructure partnership. However, it is yet to be seen whether the involved countries of the G7 will provide the goods, capital, services and people necessary for realizing the Plan, given that on the current stage the G7 is not yet ready to release financing for this Plan.


Africa possesses tremendous importance for the “Chinese Going Global” strategy, that is, making Chinese national interests and network(s) of strategic partnership(s)[1] global in character. Nevertheless, Beijing has confirmed this by official recognition of Africa as a space full of opportunities. Besides bilateral relations with the African continent, China has been enriched by multilateral arrangements such as Forum on China Africa Cooperation, China-Africa Development Fund, China-Africa Law Enforcement and Security Forum, China-Africa Energy Cooperation Center, China-Africa Cooperation Center for Ocean Science and Blue Economy, China-Africa Developmental Financing Forum and China-Africa Financial Cooperation Consortium, China-Africa Green Envoys Program, China-Africa People's Forum, China-Africa Geoscience Cooperation Center. Furthermore, with the aim to make their cooperation more sustainable, predictable, practical and cordial, the two sides signed many agreements tackling the political, infrastructure and connectivity issues of both lands (intra-African) and maritime, energy security, education, environment, international situation, and health care, just to name few. 

Amongst the documents that were signed, we can stress: China-Africa Railway Cooperation Action Plan (2016-2020) and Special Loans to Support Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises in Africa for which China pledged US$6 billion.[2] China is supporting the African ambition to create the Single African Transport Market and was greatly involved in creating the African Continental Free Trade Zone. It is obvious that through forums and signed action plans China is striving to create a suitable environment for the further realization of its economic and security goals, particularly those defined as the crucial part of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and 2015 China’s Military Strategy.

Africa is a complementary and pre-conditional factor for the successful realization of Chinese foreign and domestic policies as well as economic and security goals. There are several reasons for that: beginning from the African geographical position and its proximity to Europe via the Mediterranean and the Middle East, especially Pakistan. Europe (Port of Piraeus) and Pakistan (Port of Gwadar)[3] are strategically important spots with regard to the Chinese maritime/blue economy and security. In addition, African involvement in Chinese strategies to secure its energy security, especially in the strategies of diversification and protection of routes and destinations of oil imports, is tremendous.[4] For the Chinese side, an imbroglio lays in the fact that the competition for African energy resources is very fierce, controversial and in many aspects not regulated by market economy rules. Hence, it is expected that China will become more involved in the security and economic trends of this particular part of the world, especially if we bear in mind that since 2009 China has replaced the USA as the biggest trading partner of a majority of African countries and their biggest bilateral lender. 

As illustrative examples of greater Chinese involvement in African affairs, we emphasize Chinese breakthrough in the UN peacekeeping operations (particularly in Africa), Chinese providing of US$100 million of free military assistance for establishing the African Standby Force and the African Capacity for the Immediate Response to Crisis, and Chinese and installing the very first overseas military base in Djibouti. Beijing describes this indirect involvement in African affairs as Chinese contribution to the African ambitions to realize its Agenda 2063, especially in terms of infrastructural development,[5] economic stabilization, green energy, education, and reinforcement of people-to-people bonds, mainly through information and communication technologies. China wants to be more involved in the realization of such lucrative projects for two main reasons. The first one is Chinese endeavours to create new markets with the aim to export its overcapacities in the steel, cement and glass industry, as well as labour. The second reason is visible in Chinese ambitions to balance USA national interests and prevent actions of terrorist organizations that operate in Africa because China competes with them for controlling African strategic assets such as abundant energy resources, infrastructural development, alleviation of poverty, geographical position.  

As a conclusion, we can state that the African time in global geopolitical and geo-economic order has already begun. But it is imperative for the African nations to transform their national interests into the strategic and dynamic part of the “China-Africa community of a shared future.” 

We gratefully acknowledge Hugue Nkoutchou for his comments and Kenneth Nsah for editing this op-ed piece.


1. We put here network(s) of strategic partnership(s) because China through numerous partnerships is trying to create one global partnership known as “community with shared future for mankind.”
2. This is the part of the Ten Cooperation Plan which Xi Jinping announced in 2015. However, giving generous credit lines is the Chinese way of making its geopolitical and geo-economic influence even more visible whilst it is insisting that it is protecting the national interests of developing countries.
3. On this spot, we should not forget Chinese property rights over ports in Rotterdam, Hamburg, Antwerp, Valencia, Venice, Sri Lanka.
4. For example, Angola is the fifth largest source for Chinese import of crude oil. With regard to making the deals in energy sector, we have to emphasize that Chinese oil conglomerates are backed by Chinese state subsidies.
5. China constructed the Ethiopia-Djibouti high-speed railway. Apart from this high-speed railway, China constructs power plants, river dams, highways, ports and airports in Africa, connecting African markets. It is yet to be seen whether these projects will benefit African economic development. However, for financing these infrastructural projects, Africa reckons on a resources-backed landing model.