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People's Republic of Chinamarker-Africa
Sino-African relations refers to the historical, political, economic, military, social and cultural connections between Chinamarker and the African continent.

Little is known about ancient relations though there is some evidence for early trade operations. Highlights of medieval contacts were the 14th century journey of Ibn Battuta, the Moroccanmarker scholar and traveler, to parts of China and the Ming Dynastymarker voyages of Chinese admiral Zheng He and his fleet, which rounded the Horn of Africa and followed the coast down to the Mozambique Channelmarker.

Modern political and economic relations commenced in the Mao era. Starting the beginning of the 21st century, the modern state of People's Republic of Chinamarker has built increasingly stronger economic ties with African nations. As of August 2007, there are more than 750,000 Chinese nationals working in different African countries. Trade between China and Africa has increased 700% during the 1990s. China is currently Africa's second largest trading partner after the United Statesmarker. The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was established in October 2000 as an official forum to strengthen the relationship. However, a few Western countries—such as the United Kingdom and the United States—have raised concerns over the political, economic and military roles China is playing in the African continent.

Historical relations

China and Africa have a history of trade relations, sometimes through third parties, dating back as far as 202 BC and AD 220. The first mention of Africa in Chinese sources was in the Yu-yang-tsa-tsu by Tuan Ch'eng-shih (died 863), a compendium of general knowledge where he wrote about the land of Po-pa-li (referring to Somaliamarker).

Archaeological excavations at Mogadishumarker, Somalia and Kilwa, Tanzania have recovered many coins from Chinamarker. The majority of the Chinese coins date to the Song Dynasty, although the Ming Dynastymarker and Qing Dynastymarker are also represented, according to Richard Pankhurst. In 1226 Chao Ju-kua, commissioner of foreign trade at Quanzhoumarker in the Fujian province of China, completed his Chu-fan-chih (Description of Barbarous Peoples) which discusses Zanzibarmarker (Ts'ong-pa) and Somalia (Pi-P'a-Lo).

In the 14th century, Moroccanmarker traveler and scholar Ibn Battuta made a long journey to Africa and Asia. He reached China in April 1345 after a stay in Indiamarker before serving as an envoy of Sultan Muhammad Tughlaq of the Indian Tughlaq dynasty to China. He wrote:

The Ming Dynastymarker voyages of Chinese admiral Zheng He and his fleet, which rounded the Horn of Africa and followed the coast down to the Mozambique Channelmarker. The goal of those expeditions was to spread Chinese culture and signal Chinese strength. Zheng brought gifts and granted titles from the Ming emperor to the local rulers, with the aim of establishing a large number of tributary states. In October of 1415, Chinese explorer and admiral Zheng He reached the eastern coast of Africa and sent the first of two giraffes as gifts to the Chinese emperor Yong'le.

There are some other accounts that mention Chinese ships sinking near Lamu Islandmarker in Kenyamarker in 1415. Survivors are said to have settled in the island and married local women. However, the authenticity of this story is disputed.

Modern-day relations

The establishment of modern Sino-African relations dates back to the late 1950s when China signed the first official bilateral trade agreement with Algeriamarker, Egyptmarker, Guineamarker, Moroccomarker and Sudanmarker. Zhou Enlai made a ten-country tour to Africa between December 1963 and January 1964. Relations at that time were often reflective of China's foreign policy in general: China "began to cultivate ties and offer[...] economic, technical and military support to African countries and liberation movements in an effort to encourage wars of national liberation and revolution as part of an international united front against both superpower".


Early modern bilateral relations were mainly affected by the Cold War and the communist ideology. China originally had close ties with the anti-apartheid and liberation movement, African National Congress (ANC), in South Africa, but as China's relations with the Soviet Unionmarker worsened and the ANC moved closer to the Soviet Union, China shifted away from the ANC towards the Pan-Africanist Congress. China adopted several principles, among them supporting the independence of African countries while investing in infrastructure projects. During the Cold War a few smaller nations entered in alliances with China, such as Burundimarker under Michel Micombero.

The question of Taiwanmarker has been a key political issue for the PRC. In 1971, the support of African nations was crucial in the PRC joining the United Nations (UN), taking over the seat of the ROC on Taiwan. However, while many African countries such as Algeria, Egypt and Zambiamarker have stressed their support to "one-China policy" others such Burkina Fasomarker, Malawimarker, The Gambiamarker and Sao Tome and Principemarker are maintaining relations with Taipeimarker. For the quest of a permanent UN seat for Africa, Nigeriamarker, the largest African country, relies on Chinese support while Egyptmarker looks to U.S. backing.

Since 1997, around 40 African heads of state have visited the PRC. The ministerial meeting, Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), held in Beijing in October 2000 was the first collective dialogue between the PRC and African nations.


In 1999, the total Sino-African trade volume was US$6.5 billion. However, by 2005, the total Sino-African trade had reached US$39.7 billion before it jumped to US$55 billion in 2006, making China the second largest trading partner of Africa after the United Statesmarker, which had trade worth US$91 billion with African nations. The PRC also passed the traditional African economic partner and former colonial power Francemarker, which had trade worth US$47 billion. There are an estimated 800 Chinese corporations doing business in Africa, most of which are private companies investing in the infrastructure, energy and banking sectors. Unconditional and low-rate credit lines (rates at 1.5% over 15 years to 20 years) have taken the place of the more restricted and conditional Western loans. Since 2000, more than $10bn in debt owed by African nations to the PRC has been canceled.

One-third of China's oil comes from the African continent, mainly from Angolamarker. Investments of Chinese companies in the energy sector have reached high levels in recent years. In some cases, like in Nigeria and Angola, oil and gas exploration and production deals reached more than $2 billion. Many of those investments are mixed packages of aid and loan in exchange for infrastructure building and trade deals.

In agriculture, Beninmarker and the Sahel countries of Burkina Fasomarker and Malimarker supply up to 20% of China's cotton needs. While Côte d'Ivoiremarker supplies China with cocoa, large shipments of coffee are imported from Kenyamarker. As for fish products, Namibiamarker remains one of the main providers.

Health care

China has been engaged in a kind of "health diplomacy" towards Africa since the 1960s. Health care development and medical assistance have been one of the main successful areas of cooperation. Between the early 1960s and 2005, more than 15,000 Chinese doctors have been sent to Africa to help treat different cases in more than 47 countries. The medical teams, known as yiliaodui, have treated more than 170 million patients during the same period.

In 2001, the member nations of G8, formed the United Nations-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria with an initial budget of $10 billion. In 2007, another additional $1.1 billion was approved in Kunmingmarker, China, of which 66% was dedicated to Africa. In September of the same year, China promised the Democratic Republic of the Congomarker to build 31 hospital units and other 145 smaller health care centers, a project due to be completed in March 2010.


Military cooperation goes back to the Cold War period when China was keen to help African liberation movements. Apart from some traditional allies such as Uganda and Ethiopiamarker, China also had military ties with non-aligned countries such as Egypt. Military equipment worth $142 million was sold to African countries between 1955 and 1977. Two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Unionmarker, military relations are now based on business interests rather than ideology.

There is no Chinese military presence in Africa other than that used in peacekeeping. In 2004, China deployed around 1,500 soldiers under the UN umbrella, dispatched between Liberiamarker and the Democratic Republic of the Congomarker. China is also present via its military attachés; as of 2007, it has 14 attachés in 14 different African countries while there are 18 African countries who maintain their attachés in Beijing. Apart from peacemaking, China provides military training and equipment to a few countries, though this does not require military forces to be deployed.

Due to the low prices of Chinese-made weaponry and military equipment, an increasing number of African countries shifted their source of supply from traditional providers such as Russiamarker to China. However, the selling of arms to some states accused by Western countries of war crimes, such as Sudanmarker, have prompted criticism in the West (see Criticism section below).


Africa is a host of three Chinese cultural centers. The first overseas Chinese center was opened in Mauritiusmarker in 1988. Two other followed in Egypt and Beninmarker. The Confucius Institute, which focuses on the promotion of the Chinese language and culture, has 20 centers distributed around 13 African countries.

Historically, little is known about early African immigration to China. Due to recent developments in relations, many have been relocating for better opportunities. Places dubbed 'Little Africa' and 'Chocolate city' are increasingly receiving new immigrants, mostly Nigerians. Most of the African immigrants are concentrated in the area of Guangzhoumarker with an estimated number of 20,000. It is estimated that there are around 10,000 illegal African immigrants in China and police crackdowns have intensified since early 2009.

In contrast, early Chinese immigration to the African continent is slightly better documented. On 1724, a few Chinese convicts were brought as slaves to South Africa from the Dutch East Indiesmarker (modern-day Indonesiamarker) by the colonial Dutch Empire. In the early 19th century, another wave of immigrants came to South Africa as workers brought by the British to work in agriculture, infrastructure building and mining. In recent years, there has been an increasing presence of Chinese in Africa. Estimates vary by source though Xinhuamarker, China's official news agency, states that there are no less than 750,000 Chinese nationals working or living in Africa. The number of Chinese illegal immigrants remains unknown.


Scholars have enlighten that full support to current dictatorship may be counter-productive for long-term Chinese policy towards Africa, noting that China should one day move to serve more African peoples than elites, in order to seriously secure its investments and reduce critics.The Zimbabwean example is relevant. Relations between China and Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwemarker have also been the focus of criticism by a few Western countries. China was accused of supplying Zimbabwe with jet fighters, vehicles and other military equipment. China declared on 2007 that it was dropping all kinds of assistance and limiting assistance to humanitarian aid. In July 2008, the Chinese diplomacy asked Mugabe "to behave" though critics see that as a way for China to protect its own interests in this country should a regime changes.

Accusations of neo-colonialism

China's role in Africa has sparked many criticism, mainly by Western countries who accuse it of "neo-colonialism". As a response to such criticism, China issued the Nine Principles to Encourage and Standardise Enterprises' Overseas Investment, a charter and guide of conduct to Chinese companies operating abroad. Other criticism include the flooding of the African markets with low-cost Chinese-made products, thus harming the growth and the survival of local industries and businesses.

Human rights concerns

Human rights organizations, particularly in the run-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics, criticized China for its supportive relationship with the government of Sudan, which is accused of mass killings in Darfurmarker. China is Sudan's largest economic partner, with a 40% share in their oil, and also sells Sudan small arms. China has threatened to veto UN Security Council actions to combat the Darfur crisis, and has argued that, "As the Darfur issue is not an internal affair of China, nor was it caused by China, to link the two together is utterly unreasonable, irresponsible and unfair."

Category Africa People's Republic of China
Population 922,011,000 (2005, 2nd) 1,321,851,888
Area 30,221,532 km² 11,668,598.7 km²
9,640,821 sq mi 3,704,427 sq mi
Population density 30.51/km² ≈ 80/sq mi 140/km²
363/sq mi
Largest cities List of most populous cities in Africa Shanghai
Population of largest cities 18,580,000
Languages An estimated 2,000 languages.

Official languages
Main religions

Ethnic groups List of African ethnic groups
nominal GDP in trillions of US Dollars 2.200 3.280
nominal GDP per capita in US Dollars 1,968 2,483
Foreign exchange reserves - 1,950,000 millions of USD
Military expenditures in billions of $ 70


  • 1988, December 24
a quarrel erupted at a Christmas Eve party at the campus of Hohai Universitymarker in Nanjingmarker about correct identification between one of two African students and a Chinese security guard, who had ordered the Africans to register their two Chinese women guests. That led to a brawl between the African and Chinese students on the campus which lasted till the morning, leaving 13 students injured. (See Nanjing anti-African protests)
  • 2000's
In the early to mid 2000s, Chinese investors and state agencies spent billions building roads in Kenyamarker, a hydroelectric dam in Ghanamarker and a mobile phone network in Ethiopiamarker. Nigeria, where China controls 45% of all offshore oil reserves, has a Mandarin-language newspaper (West African United Business Daily) serving 50,000 readers — a community greater in number than the British ever were, even at the height of British colonial rule in Nigeria. In this exchange, China is buying the rights to natural resources — oil, precious minerals — to feed its expanding economy and new markets for its burgeoning enterprises. In 2005, this two-way trade had increased to $42 billion.
  • 2006, August 6
Chadmarker changed its recognition of the Republic of Chinamarker to the PRCmarker.
  • 2006, November 3
China hosted a Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Summit in Beijing with the leaders of 48 African countries designed to cement its economic and political influence in the continent. Over 2000 business were being negotiated at the time. At the opening of the summit, President Hu Jintao stated China would offer $3 billion in preferential loans and $2 billion in export credits over the next three years. China announced that it would double its foreign aid though it did not offer details.
  • 2007, February
President Hu Jintao completed an eight-country tour of Africa. The countries visited were Cameroonmarker, Liberiamarker, Sudanmarker, Zambiamarker, Namibiamarker, South Africa, Mozambiquemarker and the Seychellesmarker.

See also



  1. China’s trade safari in Africa - Le Monde Diplomatique, May 2005
  2. Snow 1988, p 2
  3. , p. 268
  4. Freeman-Grenville 1975
  5. Snow 1998, p. 23
  6. Muekalia 2004, p.6
  7. Taylor 2000, p. 93
  8. Sino-African Relations
  9. from US$39,7 million in 2001 to $113,5 million in 2005 (
  10. "World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision" United Nations (Department of Economic and Social Affairs, population division)
  11. "CNOOC takes 45% stake in Nigerian oil", PRC Embassy website
  12. Is China the new colonial power in Africa? Taipei Times, November 1, 2006
  13. "China to double its aid to Africa", BBC News, November 4, 2006
  14. "Chinese leader boosts Sudan ties", BBC News, February 2, 2007
  15. "President Hu's Africa Tour", (accessed February 2, 2007

Further reading

Ian taylor China and Africa: Engagement and Compromise London: Routledge, 2006 ISBN 0415397405.
  • Shaun Breslin and Ian Taylor, Explaining the Rise of 'Human Rights' in Analyses of Sino-African Relations, Review of African Political Economy, no. 115, 2008, pp. 59–71.
  • Scarlett Cornelissen and Ian Taylor, The Political Economy of Chinese and Japanese Linkages with Africa: A Comparative Perspective, Pacific Review, vol. 13, no. 4, 2000, pp. 615–633.

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