The forest for the trees: Trade, investment and the China-in-Africa discourse

Barry Sautman, Yan Hairong

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Trade and investment are topics central to the China-in-Africa discourse that has strongly emerged from the West in the last few years. Western opinion leaders, along with several African opposition parties, often characterize China's role in Africa as "colonialist," "neo-imperialist" or "predatory." Placing China's trade and investment in the continent in comparative perspective, the paper assesses the empirical validity of such charges, by examining those issues that receive disproportionate attention in the discourse: China's importation of oil from Africa, her exports of textiles and clothing to Africa and to the world in competition with Africa, as well as her ownership of a Zambian copper mine. It is concluded that China, as part of the world capitalist economy, injures African interests in many of the same ways as the principal Western states. The racialized China-in-Africa discourse, however, is largely inaccurate, reflective of Western elite perceptions of China as a strategic competitor, and acts as an obstacle to an effective critique of exploitative links between Africa and the more developed states.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-29
Number of pages21
JournalPacific Affairs
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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