Who does China prioritise? Our first infographic sheds some light

 In analysis

Whether you see it as taking place at the beginning of the calendar year or at the end of the Chinese year, the now annual visit by the Chinese Foreign Minister to the African continent is a remarkable tradition. Alongside its latest Africa policy white paper, it makes China’s foreign policy quite unique compared to its global counterparts. Partly because of this visit, which usually ends up covering 4 to 5 countries within a week, the Chinese leadership can be proud of having made a stunning total of 79 visits to 43 different African countries over the past 10 years. There is no other country that can boast such a record.

But here at Development Reimagined we don’t believe it’s helpful to promote simple one line headlines about China’s engagement with African countries, nor any others for that matter. What is more interesting is getting behind the broad headlines.

That’s why we’ve produced our first infographic, our first in 2018, exploring the question of exactly where the Chinese leadership have visited within the African continent over the past 10 years. When filing through news reports in Chinese, English and French to gather the data, we wondered what we might discover about Sino-Africa relations. Would the data reveal, for example, media stereotypes that China has prioritised visiting corrupt autocrats? Would it confirm speculation that countries with the largest natural resources are China’s focus? Or, would it reveal that China prioritises the poorest and most vulnerable countries, a narrative which the government is keen to promote?

The answer is – well, none of these. In fact, we found some surprising and not so surprising results. First, South Africa was the top visited country overall, with a total of 7 visits by the Chinese leadership since 2007, including most recently for the 2015 Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Summit. As the most developed – although these days less dynamic – economy on the continent, this made sense to us. South Africa does still have the largest stock of Chinese FDI in Africa. Tanzania and Zambia, with 4 and 3 visits respectively, also made sense, as the Tazara railway was until very recently the largest Chinese-built train line on the continent. But other top hitters surprised us. For instance Chad, typically classified as a fragile state, received high-level visits in 2007, 2011 and 2017. Namibia – rather than its neighbour Angola – was also amongst the top most visited, despite the latter having borrowed the most loans from Chinese financiers than any other African country to date.

The countries the leadership hasn’t visited were also of note. Obviously, the two remaining African countries that have diplomatic ties with Taiwan are non-grata in China’s books. But we found it fascinating that despite all the work China has been doing to support peace in the Horn of Africa, the leadership has not recently visited Somalia or South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, which also has large oil reserves. Several island countries are also waiting for an inaugural high-level visit.

To add more intrigue, China doesn’t (yet) appear to favour the East African region over others, even though on official maps the region appears as the entry point for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Nor does China seem to favour richer countries. We found that the leadership have visited 26 of the total 33 African countries that are classified as least developed.

So what does this mean overall for those seeking to understand China’s foreign policy? In one sentence – the data tells us that grand, simplistic narratives are cliched and wrong. We did not compile and share this information to speculate or even spin niceties about China’s foreign policy. Instead, we compiled it in order to be able to look at each country’s individual relationship with China with more clarity going forwards. This is what is most insightful, and crucial. Our CEO has said it many times before, but Africa is not one country. Sharing country-by-country analysis can arm African governments and others with better information about where they sit within China’s priorities, providing new, measurable indicators for them to track progress in that relationship.

High-level visits are just one indicator, and, as our analysis demonstrates, a fairly blunt one at that. We plan over the coming year, as a “public good”, to analyse and share information on other indicators, which may be useful for African and other leaders to use in their Chinese engagement plans. This will be particularly helpful as the 7th Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), to be held in September this year, draws closer.

So watch this space, and expect more infographics providing a fresh view on China’s global footprint and other international development trends from us soon. And if you have a burning question for an infographic, do share it with us! We can’t wait to share our findings with you.

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Showing 32 comments
  • T Phoka
    Reply

    China has & is still playing a crucial developmental role in post-colonial Africa. Transport like railway linestation are important in development more so if it promotes intra-countries trade.

  • Andrew Ntia
    Reply

    As an industrious African, I will countries that are very objective in their technology transfer initiative in Africa. But, where countries like China would come to us with hidden agenda, just to us due of avoidable technical deficiency, it brings more pain to we the younger generation.

    I still prefer that the Americans and Europeans invest in our continent.

    Please, I need more info on Chinese engagement with Africa, especially our corrupt leaders.

    Thanks.

  • 88th Map Guru
    Reply

    Brilliant infographic and insightful piece.
    I’m not sure why Andrea inversed the colour ramp in the pie chart vs the map. Now I have to re-read the key because blue is no longer equal to lower numbers / low interest and all of a sudden it a high-interest indicator. Sigh.
    Loved it otherwise. Great work. 🙂

    • developmentreimagined
      Reply

      Thank you so much for your detailed look at the infographic! We will definitely be more consistent with the colours next time!

  • Frank Admire
    Reply

    Quite interesting and refreshing approach to looking at Africa-China engagements. Out of interest will it also be feasible to compare Chinese visits with for say developed countries e.g. the USA, U.K, France and see how they each fair? Then we will be able to draw better judgement, not to say we can not now. But congratulations, you have done excellent work, and keep it coming. Cant wait for your 2.0 reloaded….

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EDMOND BOSILONG

Research Analyst

Edmond is a research analyst who is passionate about sustainable development, innovation, and the environment. Passionate about climate financing, he firmly believe there is a more reliable system to promote equality, growth, and welfare in societies without affecting the ecosystem. Through his skills, knowledge and experienced gained over 7 years, he wants to make an impact in the world of development. Edmond holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Korea Development Institute and a BA Degree (Honors) in Business from University of Derby.

   HANNAH RYDER

    Founder and CEO

Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE's International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.

LEAH LYNCH

Deputy Director

Leah Lynch is Deputy Director of Development Reimagined (DR), and head of the China office. Leah has over 10 years of experience in development and has lived in China for over 8 years. Leah has also travelled extensively around Asia and Africa for research. Leah supports the strategic direction of the team across China, with a mission to deliver high quality research on sustainable development and poverty reduction. Leah is also Chair of the Sustainability Forum at the British Chamber of Commerce in China, providing direction on sustainability initiatives for British and Chinese business. Leah has also consulted on various evaluations on UK aid (ICAI) and is a specialist on development cooperation from the UK and China. Leah has also consulted on various UN projects, including providing support to the UN China team during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Prior to DR, Leah was at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) China, supporting the UN’s portfolio on communication strategies, China’s South- South Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Before UNDP, Leah lived and worked in Kenya developing sustainable water policies for the Kenyan government.

YIKE FU

China-Africa Policy Analyst

Yike Fu is a Policy Analyst and has been responsible for leading numerous areas of work, including on debt analysis in Africa and beyond, and China-Africa trade and investment logistics and analysis. She is the co-author of “African Debt Guide”, in which she challenged the narrative that Africa is in the midst of a new debt crisis by analysing data back to the 1970s and adopting new metrics to present the real story behind the data. She also developed a benchmark to compare the financial distribution of development partners such as the UK, US, Japan, France and China in Africa. Prior to her role at DR she worked at the International Finance Corporation and African Union Representational Mission to the US. She holds a Masters in International Affairs from George Washington University.

JUDITH MWAI

Research Analyst

Judith is a Research and Policy Analyst, where she specialises in Africa-China relations, international development, and diplomacy. During her time at Development Reimagined, Judith has co-authored several articles published in The Diplomat on debt and China-Barbados relations and was quoted by China Daily in a piece on Women Rights in China. Previously, Judith worked as a research analyst for an Advocate and Commissioner and Oats office in Kenya.

OVIGWE EGUEGU

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Ovigwe specialises in geopolitics with particular reference to Africa in a changing Global Order. He is adept at critically analysing the politics of contemporary development processes and providing insight into the geopolitical interests that influence them. His work includes research, publications, tailored briefings and advising on global and regional trends, and issues at the nexus of geopolitics and development. Ovigwe appears frequently in media around the world such as Al Jazeera, TRT World, SABC, CGTN, BBC Radio, and other platforms.

JING CAI

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Jing leads China-African health and agriculture cooperation research at Development Reimagined, having managed our FOCAC Policy Analysis and Advocacy project. She is also the co-author of “China-Africa Health Cooperation under FOCAC Umbrella”, in which she analysed China’s commitments around health cooperation since the first FOCAC summit and deepdived into four African countries’ health overview, challenges and cooperation with China as cases studies. Before DR, Jing worked at GIZ Cambodia on M&E of a disability advocacy project. She also worked as a translator with Chinese medical team in Benin.

PATRICK ANAM

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Patrick is an International Trade Policy and Trade Law Expert with over 5 years of experience. His expertise includes trade law, trade policy analysis and regional integration. He is currently engaged with Development Reimagined as a Senior Trade Analyst and was the lead author of Development Reimagined's recent Report on Africa-China Relations titled "From China-Africa to Africa- China: A Blue Print for a Green and Inclusive Continent-Wide Strategy Towards China." and “Reimaging FOCAC Going Forward.” Patrick has previously consulted for the East African Community, UNECA and for the Kenya Ministry of Trade.

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Project Manager and Africa-China Communication Assistant

Jade is a Project Manager for Development Reimagined’s flagship project Africa Unconstrained, which focuses on financing needs and debt vulnerabilities of African countries. Her research focuses on China-Africa development finance alongside debt vulnerabilities, infrastructure needs and South-South cooperation. She has worked with a breadth of stakeholders from China, Africa and the wider international community, including governments, private sector, NGOs and civil society. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications, including The Africa Report, The China-Africa Project, The Diplomat and more. Jade holds a Master’s in China and Globalisation studies from King’s College London.

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Rosie is also alumni of the School of International Studies at Peking University in Beijing where she is also an editor at the Peking Africa Think Tank. PATT is led by a diverse group of scholars who specialise in African Studies within the context of Sino-Africa relations.

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Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE's International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.