China in Africa: European Perceptions and Responses to the Chinese Challenge - 中欧社会论坛 - China Europa Forum

China in Africa: European Perceptions and Responses to the Chinese Challenge

Denis M. Tull

African Studies Program The Johns Hopkins University

As elsewhere, China’s rapidly increasing involvement in Africa over the last few

years has drawn significant attention in Europe. The reasons for this are not hard to

identify. Firstly, European countries, along with the US and Japan as well the

international financial organizations in which they have large stakes, considered

themselves to be the main players in Africa’s external relations. Secondly, there was a

widespread sense of incredulity that a rising superpower should show a keen interest in a

continent that large parts of the European public regard as hopeless on account of its

widespread poverty and wars.

Horrific conflicts and South African apartheid aside, it is hard to think of any

Africa-related phenomenon that has received as much attention by the public, the media

and political circles in Europe over the past decades than China’s involvement in Africa.

As is usual within the European Union, assessments and responses were not uniform,

oscillating between sometimes shrill alarmist views and more balanced accounts that

reflected the difficulties to grapple with China’s largely unexpected return to Africa.

This paper examines European representations, perceptions and responses to

China’s challenge in Africa. The difficulty lies in the fact that neither Europe and nor the

European Union are homogenous entities. Interpretations and responses come from the

national governments and agencies of EU member states as well as from institutions of

the European Union such as the parliament, the Council and notably the European


This paper argues that opinions and assessments about China’s engagement with

Africa have significantly evolved within a relatively short period of time. A discernable

and distinct European response has yet to take shape which would seek to engage China

over Africa. Certainly the most remarkable consequence of the China-Africa embrace is

that it has contributed to re-ignite a tremendous amount of European interest in Africa

itself. One can argue that it is an element of perceived strategic competition which, at

least to some extent, is driving Europe’s more recent attempts to engage Africa, a trend

most obviously evidenced by the symbolic politics of the European Union – Africa

Summit in Lisbon in December 2007.

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