Posted: November 7th, 2023


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The Win-Win Strategy Between China and Africa

Africa has the largest number of developing nations, while China is the world’s biggest developing nation. The emergence of China as an economic and political powerhouse has been of great benefit to Africa. The country has been increasing its presence in the continent, prioritizing massive infrastructure projects. In return, China benefits from increased access to Africa’s natural resources, which are critical to its domestic manufacturing sector. From a broader perspective, China represents an opportunity for African countries to secure financial support for long-term development, whereas Africa represents an opportunity for China to access rare natural resources. While critics accuse China’s foreign policy of neo-colonialism, its development strategy is deeply rooted in the Chinese tradition of peace and cooperation, fostering mutual benefit and diplomatic innovations with Africa.

China’s Role in Africa’s Economic Development

            China is Africa’s most important export and import market for its goods and services. According to data from Observer Research Foundation, Chinese imports from Africa were $78 million in 2019, while exports amounted to $113 billion (Stein 2021, p. 1). The sum highlights that China is Africa’s greatest trade partner, with the trade relationship amounting to nearly $200 billion. For instance, consider the case of Angola and China. Angola imported over $23 billion in Chinese goods in 2019 (Stein 2021, p. 1). The goods accounted for 34% of Angola’s total imports. On the other hand, China acquired a third of Angola’s exports, mainly cobalt, manganese, and copper. Angola represents how China makes up a significant share of Africa’s foreign trade. The country absorbs nearly 15% of the continent’s global exports (Stein 2021, p. 1). Open trade with China benefits Africa’s lower-income households with increased access to affordable goods and services. Therefore, trade is critical to national prosperity and poverty eradication in Africa.

            China not only trades but also invests in Africa. Observer Research Foundation reports that China’s foreign direct investment in Africa in 2019 amounted to $44 billion (Stein 2021, p. 2). The sum makes China Africa’s second-biggest investor after the United States. Foreign direct investment has been critical in improving Africa’s infrastructure development. In Ethiopia, Angola, and Zambia, China’s funding facilitated the construction of geothermal and hydropower plants. Ethiopia generated $86 million in revenues in 2019 from its Chinese-funded 750-kilometer railway between Addis Ababa and Djibouti (Koomson & Chinweokwu 2020; Burgos & Ear 2012, p. 361). Class readings outlined that the World Bank considers infrastructure the biggest obstacle to economic development in Africa. Infrastructure improvements translate into a higher return on investment, increasing the incentives for private investors. Therefore, China’s participation in Africa has been essential in revitalizing and boosting the continent’s private sector.

China’s Influencing Policy, Education, and Culture

            China’s investment in Africa is not limited to goods and services alone but also human resource development. China’s Confucianism promotes the direct exposure of students to developmental experiences. Between 2012-205, China granted over 30000 students and trainees from Kenya, Zambia, Angola, Nigeria, and Libya overseas learning grants (King 2014, p. 3). China pays close attention to the close training of African nationals for the long-term sustainability of collaborative undertakings. A report by the Business and Human Rights Center highlights that China has trained and developed nearly 30000 workers from Angola and Ethiopia between 2012-2015 (Pilling 2019). The study looks at the construction and manufacturing sectors in the two countries to find that China employs local workers, pays them more than expected domestically, and trains them to achieve industry standards. China’s human resource development facilitates the emergence of a highly skilled workforce in Africa. The direct implication is Africans becoming more competitive in the global labor market.

            China’s foreign policy ensures long-term collaboration between the continent and the Chinese in higher education. The Forum on China-African Cooperation (FOCAC) tracks 20 African universities and colleges with bases in China (Ayers 2013, p. 21). The FOCAC scheme includes universities from Makerere, Dar es Salaam, Pretoria, Nairobi, and Cairo. Funding has allowed African universities to offer more undergraduate and diploma programs. China’s focus on peace and prosperity ensures cultural non-interference, allowing African states to decide what should be learned. As a result, Chinese funding has prompted the increased adoption of western education models in Africa (Ayers 2013, p. 24). The approach makes African graduates more competitive in the global labor market. Moreover, improved funding enhances alignment with the quality of western standards for education. Even though critics claim China’s investment in African universities targets introducing Confucian doctrine to the younger generation, the reality is more Africans are accessing quality and affordable higher education.

Africa’s Role in China’s Development

Africa provides China with resource security for its divergent economic sectors. One of China’s main developmental challenges is the availability of energy and material resources. In less than a decade, the country transitioned from a leading Asian oil exporter to the second largest global consumer (Power 2012, p. 994). Angola helped address this Chinese oil crisis, exporting 62.5% of its oil extraction to China in 2019 (Pilling 2019). Africa is well-endowed in natural resources, which encouraged the continent to become a major focus for China’s foreign policy. Africa contains the third-largest oil reserves, with 12.5% of global deposits estimated to be stored below the continent in 2007 (Alden and Alves 2009, p. 6). The continent’s endowment in non-oil minerals only compliments its importance to China. For instance, South Africa is China’s main source of platinum and gold, while Congo is the main source of cobalt and iron ore (Alden and Alves 2009, p. 6). Without Chinese Sino-African relations, Chinese domestic industries would experience a serious decline in productivity due to resource unavailability.

Africa provides China with an opportunity to increase its global political influence. According to Stein (2021, p. 1), Beijing’s support of Africa is mainly driven by the need to influence the international stage. With the Belt and Road Initiative, China dominates traditional trade routes cutting across Africa, Europe, and Asia. Due to African bi-partnership, China has numerous maritime and navy posts spread across the continent (Stein 2021, p. 1). The strategic approach allows China to connect and dominate sea and road trade between the three continents. The importance of Africa to China is also seen on the global diplomatic stage. Through elective practice, Chinese nationals now head four United Nations agencies (Pairault 2021). China has never secured so many directorate positions in its past. The agencies are symbolic because they enhance China’s contribution and involvement in the industrialization of developing countries. The tactic means more investment opportunities for the country despite the increased ability to influence international policies.


China’s increased involvement with the African continent has the hallmark attributes of mutual goodwill. By funding and supporting African states financially, China establishes a client base for its trade and foreign policy. China’s foreign direct investment in Africa is crucial to the continent’s infrastructure development. The funding improves Africa’s return on investments, making it a more attractive market for global business. On the other hand, China’s focus on human resource development and higher education contributes to Africa becoming a more competitive labor market. However, the developmental financial aid is complementary to China’s foreign direct investment. China benefits from improved access to Africa’s natural resources in return for the FDI. Bi-partisan support with African states also translates into enhanced diplomatic support on the global stage. The direct implication is China increasing its political influence on international matters. While critics warn of neocolonial Chinese agendas, the future of Africa is highly contingent on its economic relations with China.


Alden, C & Alves, C 2009, China and Africa’s natural resources: The challenges and implications for development and governance. South African Institute of International Affairs Press.

Ayers, A, 2013, beyond myths, lies, and stereotypes: The political economy of a new scramble for Africa. New Political Economy, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 1-31.

Burgos, S., & Ear, S 2012, China’s oil hunger in Angola: History and perspective. Contemporary China, vol. 21, no. 74, pp. 351-367.

King, K, 2014, China’s higher education engagement with Africa: A different partnership and cooperation model. International Development Policy, vol. 5, pp. 1-8.

Koomson, I., & Chinweokwu, N 2020, China-Africa investments and economic growth in Africa. Open Access Peer Reviewed Chapter,

Pairault, T, 2021, China’s presence in Africa is at heart political. The Diplomat,

Pilling, D, 2019, Africa: Study reveals Chinese companies pay and train workers to similar standards as non-Chinese companies. Business & Human Rights Resource Center (BHRRC),

Power, M, 2012, Angola 2025: the future of the world’s richest poor country as seen through the Chinese rear-view mirror, Antipode. Vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 993-1014.

Stein, P, 2021, China in Africa: The role of trade, investments, and loans amidst shifting geopolitical ambitions. The Observer Research Foundation, pp. 1-2.

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