Neo-Colonialism or Globalisation with Chinese Characteristics? China’s role in Africa

For decades after the Cold War, the United States of America has stood as the world’s sole superpower, the caretaker of the world with its fingers poking everywhere. America’s economic and cultural influence is so powerful, that nations have even based their constitutions on American values. America is the modern Rome, yet a new power is growing from the east, with its red shadow rapidly moving west.

The People’s Republic of China, the current dynasty of the Middle Kingdom, sits uncomfortably on the number two seat of world power and dominance. China’s struggles to maintain cultural and political superiority in Asia reflects the agenda and mindset of the current leadership of the Communist Party; to dominate and not be dominated (C. V. Staden 2018). China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) (Griffiths 2017) is nothing less than the modern form of neo-colonialism, with Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” becoming a reality (Kuhn 2013).

China’s manifest destiny does not just intend to march east into the South China Sea and west into Eurasia however (Manuel 2017). There is great treasure and fortune to be found within the global south, and now China has become Africa’s largest trading partner in recent years (Mariam 2017) (Manero 2017). This essay argues that “globalisation with Chinese characteristics” is nothing more than China’s neo-colonialist agenda to influence the world and overtake the United States as a superpower. The essay will briefly discuss the history of neo-colonialism and look deeply into China’s contemporary relationship with Africa and how the politics and economics of the CCP affect Africa today.


Traditional colonialism and imperialism are a form of control used by a nation to dominate another politically, economically and culturally, usually by military force, unlike neo-colonialism, which uses capitalism and trade, rather than direct control to influence colonies (Sarte 2001) (Blanchard 2018). Experts have argued that this form of colonialism arose after the end of traditional colonialism in Africa and is the type of force that can be seen being exerted by powerful nations such as the United States.

Although technically independent, a nation that is being exploited by a more powerful one through these means essentially suffers a similar to fate to those nations conquered in the past by colonial powers; cheap labour and poverty continues to grow (Nkrumah 1965).

Kwame Nkrumah (1965), the first President of Ghana once stated,

“A State in the grip of neo-colonialism is not master of its own destiny. It is this factor that makes neo-colonialism such a threat to world peace.”

In fact, it was Nkrumah who first coined the term “neo-colonialism” in 1963. His argument was that neo-colonialism simply meant that military control shifted into economic control, with politics still being manipulated by a foreign power. Thus, for a model of foreign relations to be considered “neo-colonialism”, it must fulfil the requirements of affecting a nation culturally and politically through economics. Therefore, in order to determine whether globalisation in Africa with Chinese characteristics is a form of neo-colonialism, the nature of China’s relationship and the reasoning behind said relationship must be analysed.

Characteristics of China’s relationship with Africa

China’s contemporary relationship with Africa is anything and everything to do with resources, with one third of China’s oil supply coming from the continent (Manero 2017) (C. V. Staden 2018) (Friedberg 2018). China’s relationship with the outside world has always been centred on territory and economic superiority, causing many countries, particularly in Southeast Asia to bandwagon with other powerful nations (Cissé 2015). From China’s expansion into Eurasia and the South China Sea and the CCP’s strong policy towards Taiwan (Republic of China) and Hong Kong, it is clear that Chinese globalisation is the foundation for a new global economic empire, a Pax Sinica, that will bring the entire Eastern World under China’s, or more specifically, the Chinese Communist Party’s rule (Friedberg 2018) (Okeowo 2013).

Why China is in Africa?

So why does China want to invest in Africa? It is a harsh but realistic assumption to make, but China sees Africa as an easy opportunity to project its global influence (Okeowo 2013) (Albert 2017). Africa is a continent with a history of war, famine, imperialism, poverty, and due to this, it is unstable politically. Like some Middle-eastern and Southeast Asian nations that have suffered from a brutal regime, the resources of Africa have not been unlocked to their full potential, and thus China, a somewhat developed nation, can take advantage of that (Sun 2014). With any neo colonial empire, the most important way to exert influence is to maintain control over the economy of colonies, and compared to any other developing regions on Earth, Africa has the highest rate of foreign investment return (Maverick 2018), making it a key strategic goal and necessary requirement for maintaining manufacturing for the Red Empire (Al Jazeera 2018).

And of course, through economic influence, political influence follows. China has invested heavily into infrastructure in East Africa, with some saying that China has projected the quality of these nations by over 10 years. The more China invests and builds in infrastructure and technology, the more political influence it will have in the governments of these nations, which can already be seen today (C. V. Staden 2018) (Manero 2017). Not only does influence over Africa increase China’s outreach around the globe, but it solidifies China’s dominance over one of its economic and geopolitical rivals, India, where China’s trade with Africa greatly surpasses (Cissé 2015).


China’s investment in Africa is greater than that of any other nation, building infrastructure, exporting cheap goods, providing aid and loans to a hungry continent (Constantaras 2016) (French 2014 ) (Albert 2017). Unfortunately, it has been shown that most of this investment is carried out by the Chinese themselves, with hardly any concern for local workers or markets (Bardsley 2010). By continuously pumping Africa with cheap Chinese goods, local African markets find it impossible to compete with Chinese companies, which is causing Africa to essentially rely on China for these goods (Panda 2018) (Okeowo 2013) (Manero 2017).

Under Xi Jinping’s new initiatives for China, the CCP has placed a lot of investment in education, encouraging African students to receive tuition in China, and contributing to education in Africa. China now offers over a thousand scholarships for African students annually and more African students are studying under Chinese education than American (C. v. Staden 2018).

Political Influence

The People’s Republic of China’s political relationship with the Republic of China or Taiwan (Gramer 2017) has a significant impact on aid given and trade conducted by China in Africa. China takes this situation seriously and does not engage in trade or relations with nations that recognise the ROC as the legitimate government of China. Thus, all African nations excluding Swaziland (Eswatini) formally recognise and have ties to the PRC. One source describes how there is a distinct correlation between support for the PRC in the UN and international despites and the percentage of aid given by China. China rewards political support with support, thus having an enormous influence over the politics of African nations, for example, Kenya has deported numerous ROC nationals to China, and South Africa has even denied entry to the Dalai Lama due to China’s influence (Chan 2018).

As stated before, China places a lot of emphasis on education in Africa, and through this education, China has successfully implemented its political model in countries like Ethiopia. In fact, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is considered to be China’s greatest success for political influence in Africa, with the EPRDF’s domestic and foreign policies matching the Chinese Communist Party’s exactly due to the education of Ethiopian politicians in China and consistent diplomacy between the two nations. This form of political influence is essential to China’s plans for Africa.

Military Presence in Africa

Although not a necessary requirement of the traditional model of neo-colonialism, China does in fact have a military presence on the continent in Africa (Jacobs and Perlez 2017). President Xi Jinping was quoted in 2017 (C. V. Staden 2018) stating that, “China must build a powerful and modernized military…and create a modern combat system with distinctive Chinese characteristics.”

Perhaps one of the most distinct features of American globalisation is a continued US military presence in 70 different countries around the globe with around 800 military bases. The establishment of China’s first overseas military base in Djibouti indicates that China wishes to emulate this form of globalisation with Chinese elements (Jacobs and Perlez 2017), and to allow more strategic access to the Indian Ocean, closing the gap between China and Africa. A continued military presence in Africa by China may reflect America’s continued presence in the Middle East, which serves both political and economic agendas, which could lead to China facing the same scrutiny as America has and be labelled as imperialist (Panda 2018).


By analysing the facts, it is clear what China’s intentions for Africa are, and the method by which they achieve their goals reflects the Chinese Communist Party’s quest to assert Chinese cultural and political dominance around the world (Okeowo 2013).

Neo-colonialism can be defined as the use of economic, political and cultural pressure to influence other countries for the purpose of self-gain (Nkrumah 1965). These tactics work best on developing nations or nations that have previously been colonies or dependencies of other empires. China has used economic pressure to construct infrastructure in Africa, export cheap products and mine minerals to accelerate the economic growth of developing African nations, but in doing so as made those nations dependant on China as their biggest trading partner, thus opening the doors for Chinese Communist Party to exert it’s influence on African education and politics. Through education, China as influenced the future leaders of African nations such as Ethiopia and Kenya to adopt politics with Chinese characteristics, rather than Western liberal democratic values, and in doing so allows China to play a big role in the domestic politics of those nations. With China’s support, these African nations will prosper and thus the cultural sphere of China grows, as more young African students move to China for education, and more young Chinese workers move to Africa for employment (French 2014 ). Because of China’s more powerful economy, they are able to exploit workers and the local markets, further adding to the neo-colonialist argument (Bardsley 2010). Through this cycle of economic influence spreading into the politics of Africa, China’s global influence grows, and the ease of using the Belt Road Initiative to connect Africa with Eurasia will ultimately lead to China, and only China, rising higher. Thus, by the definitions of neo-colonialism and the evidence shown, it can be said that globalism with Chinese characteristics is nothing more than another term for Chinese neo-colonialism, and that if things continue as planned for the Chinese Communist Party, China may very well overcome the United States economically (Cissé 2015).


Although China claims to be in a mutual partnership with its African allies, the evidence has shown that China benefits the most out of all these projects and contracts set up by Chinese companies and corporations on the continent. China’s private and public sectors benefit enormously from the exploitation of African recourse, which account for a significant amount of the Middle Kingdom’s economic machine. China thus relies on Africa to supply the resources necessary to carry out the master plan of establishing a Pax Sinica in Eurasia, keeping its economic rivals of Japan and India in check, and overtaking the United States of America as the economic superpower of Planet Earth.




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