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Towards a critical geopolitics of China’s engagement with African development

Power, M.; Mohan, G.

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G. Mohan


China, in its quest for a closer strategic partnership with Africa, has increasingly dynamic economic, political and diplomatic activities on the continent. Chinese leaders and strategists believe that China's historical experience and vision of economic development resonates powerfully with African counterparts and that the long-standing history of friendly political linkages and development co-operation offers a durable foundation for future partnership. Both in China and amongst some Western commentators a form of exceptionalism and generalisation regarding both China and Africa has been emerging. In this article instead we seek to develop theoretical tools for examining China as a geopolitical and geoeconomic actor that is both different and similar to other industrial powers intervening in Africa. This is premised on a political economy approach that ties together material interests with a deconstruction of the discursive or ‘extra-economic’ ways by which Chinese capitalism internationalises. From there we use this framework to analyse contemporary Chinese engagement in Africa. We examine the changing historical position of Africa within Beijing's foreign policy strategy and China's vision of the evolving international political system, looking in particular at China's bilateral and state-centric approach to working with African ‘partners’. Chinese practice is uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the notion of ‘development’ as an independent policy field of the kind that emerged among Western nations in the course of the 1950s and increasingly China has come to be viewed as a ‘rogue creditor’ and a threat to the international aid industry. Rather than highlighting one strand of Chinese relations with African states (such as aid or governance) we propose here that it is necessary to critically reflect on the wider geopolitics of China-Africa relations (past and present) in order to understand how China is opening up new ‘choices’ and altering the playing field for African development for the first time since the neo-liberal turn of the 1980s.


Power, M., & Mohan, G. (2010). Towards a critical geopolitics of China’s engagement with African development. Geopolitics, 15(3), 462-495.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Aug 25, 2010
Deposit Date Jul 8, 2010
Publicly Available Date Feb 11, 2014
Journal Geopolitics
Print ISSN 1465-0045
Electronic ISSN 1557-3028
Publisher Taylor and Francis Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 15
Issue 3
Pages 462-495


Accepted Journal Article (443 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This is an electronic version of an article published in Power, M. and Mohan, G. (2010) 'Towards a critical geopolitics of China’s engagement with African development.', Geopolitics., 15 (3). pp. 462-495. Geopolitics is available online at: with the open URL of your article.

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