How China is viewed in Africa?

One year ago, we saw China was competing with the US for African hearts and minds based on a BBC poll. Not long after that BBC poll, International Herald Leader, a subsidiary weekly of Xinhua News Agency, started a survey on how African view China. It took them five months to complete the survey.

We have conducted the survey with 121 representatives in some African countries, and 32 mainstream media of 16 African countries.  

It is a rather comprehensive survey.

I am glad that International Herald Leader grants me the right to translate and publish the survey report here, so that we can have one more different voice besides BBC. I believe this can also help people understand how China sees Africa.


A Survey of African’s Views On China

Original post: 《中国在非洲形象调查》 by International Herald Leader《国际先驱导报》

Translators: EPIN

Editor: Cathy and Jacky Peng

This year (2006) marks the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of diplomatic ties between new China and African countries. Although China and Africa are far away from each other, friendship and cooperation between China and Africa are long-standing. In half a century, friendship between China and Africa has been constantly consolidated and developed against the test of time. 

In former days, China was benignly called by African countries as their “Big Brother”. So, how do the Africans and African media view China today? What image does China have in their eyes today? 

To get the answer, 16 Africa-based branch agencies of International Herald Leader work with the Global Issues Research Centre of the Xinhua News Agency for a research. The research started in mid-May this year (2006). In 5 months, we have conducted the survey with 121 representatives in some African countries, and 32 mainstream media of 16 African countries. We have interviewed with overseas Chinese, Chinese expats in Africa and Chinese African experts. In the end, we can have a relatively clear understanding of how African view China at present. We can better understand the problems and reasons behind such view. 

This survey involves 16 countries: Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethel compare Asia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Cameroon, Gabon, Cote D’Ivoire, Angola, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria. 

China in African’s heart: China has nothing do with “New Colonism.”

The African not only highly appreciate China’s achievements since the implementation of the reform and open policy, but also are very pleased to see a flourishing and prosperous China. 

The relationship between China and Africa has been in honeymoon for a long time. This friendly relationship gets more consolidated through China’s aid to many nations in Africa and Africa’s universal support China in issues like the Taiwan issue. While in the past 30 years, earth-shaking changes have taken place in China and Africa since China implemented reform and open policy. What do the African care about China? We have sent the questionnaires to 121 African public. And we have 42 valid samples. The survey found 29 of them (70%) considered economy the most important, 9 of them (20%) considered politics, 2 of them (5%) considered diplomacy, and each 1 of them considered the energy and the military respectively.  

Then, how is the overall image of China in Africa? In response to this question, 76% of 68 African respondents believed that the overall image of China is positive; 10% believed that it is neutral and the rest 14% believed it is negative.   

Positive image 1: The political system conforms to the national situation 

In this survey taken by International Herald Leader, African people were enquired about their views on the political system of China. Among the 68 responses, 28 persons have not answered this question. Out of the 40 valid responses, 10 people (25%) believed that China is a democratic country whose political system conforms to its national situation; meanwhile, the increasingly open and self-confident image of the Chinese leader also benefit the positive political image of China in Africa. 

Some respondents said that, China’s political advantage lies in its ability to promote the rapid development of China’s economy. A Ugandan people said that, the mature political system help China to focus on economic development and that’s why China can emerge in the world as a new economic power. According to China’s present development, he was firmly convinced that the Chinese political system is superior. 

Positive image 2: China has nothing to do with “the threat”.

59% of 68 African respondents believe that China is already a powerful country or is on its way to become one. Completely opposite to the widespread “China threat” view in the western countries, they welcome a rising as well as a powerful China. Three respondents from Cameroon pointed out that, the western media has long been reporting China largely in a negative way. But few African people recognize such reports.

Some western countries has come up with the idea of China is having “new colonism” in Africa. Africans do not agree with such idea. Among 58 respondents, 72% of them have negative attitude on such idea. Mr. Jossia Mothang, the head of “The Freedom” in Tanzania, said, “That is only a hype of Western countries. They have their agenda to spread such viewpoints.” Mohammed Lattif, an official in the Asia Division of the Egypt Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said, “The Arabic world did not regard the rising of China as the threat to the world, instead, we take it as an important force to help the world have peace and stabilization. China balances the international power.” 

Some people advocated that China should give the counter-attack to the propaganda of these media of the western countries. Seville Nebb the news counselor of the presidential palace in Cote D’Ivoire said, “These views have such a strong instigation that it would have tremendous negative influence on the image of China. In this case, China should strengthen the refutation of the opinions on this aspect.”  

Positive image 3: The mode of economic development set an example

As to “China’s overall image”, 37 persons (62%) thought that China would become a worldwide economic power with its very fast and steady development in economy.  

Some respondents even thought that their countries should learn from the experience of the rapid economic development in China. 37 persons (62%) highly praised the model of China’s economic development, saying that this model can overcome the weaknesses such as large population and the lack of resources in their countries. This could provide positive example to various countries in Africa and other developing countries around the world. A respondent in Nigeria said, “The current state of the economic development in China provides an opportunity to broaden the horizon for the countries like Nigeria with a dense population.”

Positive image 4: China upholds the justice

Among the 68 respondents, 75% thought that China had upheld justice for the African countries around the world, while 25% said they didn’t have idea on this. It’s almost a one-sided response. The survey also showed that, the proportions of very-friendly, friendly and not-so-friendly are 50%, 46% and 4% respectively, regarding China’s attitude to the respondents’ countries or other African countries. In other words, 96% of them considered Chinese are friendly to them. 

Han Jun, chairman of Overseas Chinese Association in Kenya also indicated, the Kenyan had a favorable impression of China generally. They think that China never bullies or invades small African countries with its power. China consistently respects small countries, dealing with the relationships of African countries based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. China never imposes its own will upon the African countries, nor interferes in domestic affairs of African countries, nor carries out compulsory economic sanction to African countries. On contrary, China aids Africa much without any additional conditions. 

Negative image 1: The economic development is overheated

Other than the above positive images, the survey also found several negative images of China in Africa as follows: Among the 60 African, 7 respondents (about 10%) bluntly pointed out a series of problems hidden behind the fast development of Chinese economy. For example, some parts of economic development are overheated; Unfairness exists in the distribution of economic achievement; and the environment is destroyed in the process of economic development. 

Respondents in Cote D’Ivoire pointed out that the phenomenon of overheated economy and uneven wealth distribution exist in China. Besides, economic development destroyed the environment. Thus, China still has a long way to go for the sustainable development. Marveling at the economic development in China, one respondent in Uganda expressed his worry: “The economy grows in such a fast speed that is far beyond expectations; it would likely cause some problems such as overheating of economy.” 

Negative image 2: The quality of Chinese commodity raises doubt 

In recent years, a mass of Chinese commodities has flooded the African market. Some African people say that the prices of Chinese commodities are cheap, but the quality is not so satisfying. 

Abdullah Hassan, member of Egyptian Chamber of Commerce, said that there were many good commodities from China, and the prices were also competitive. However, most Chinese commodities currently sold in African market are relatively low quality, which would harm Chinese products’ selling in African market. If the situation goes on without change, the image of China would be possibly damaged.  

Negative image 3: the quality of some companies is not high

Amen Seneu, Senegalese, says, “In the past, those Chinese working in Africa were excellent, but now some Chinese doing business in Africa are selfish, and they don’t care much about the reputation of the nation.” The president of South Africa—China Culture Exchange Company said, Africans have a big impressions of Chinese is, “many illegal immigrants and community criminal. ”

Zhao Zhen bin, the Charge D’affaires of China Embassy in Zambia also said: “While massive Chinese investors are coming to Africa in recent years, the personnel’s quality is spotty. Some of them, particularly some private investors, cause ill effect in the local because they seek for quick success and instant return by all means. Some African people consider these few Chinese all the people from China. Obviously, they are biased. However, Chinese should behave and improve our self. ”

Negative image 4: Some Chinese do not want to mix with the local   

Some African people said, although the Chinese are hard-working and good at running business, some of them are unwilling to blend with the local because of language, custom, etc. They look a little unsociable. Genklar Alsai, reporter and editor of News Agency International Department in Angola pointed out: “Presently there are many Chinese living in Angola, and they are working hard, but few of them are able to speak Portuguese. They don’t like to get along with the locals, unwilling to melt into the local community.”

Conclusion: African is pleased to see a flourishing and prosperous China. 

According to the survey, generally speaking, African people not only praise highly of China’s great achievements in the fields of politics, economy, diplomacy, culture, etc, but also are glad to see a flourishing and prosperous China. However, African people, Chinese expats in Africa and experts on African issue also pointed out some China’s negative images in African. Though the negative images are not dominating in African, they are in existence and having ill influences, therefore they should not be overlooked.


Chinese image in African media: China is Africa’s friend 

In general, African media think that “China’s aids to Africa have shown that China is Africa’s ally, and this is touching.”, and the development of Sino-African relationship has infused the fresh vitality into the traditional mutual friendship. 

Based on our calculation, the total number of news on China reported by 32 mainstream media of 16 countries in Africa from this June to this July (2006), is 1192. The majority of those reports are either neutral or positive.

“The Sino-African traditional friendship has been infused fresh vitality.  ”

Undoubtedly, the Sino-African relationship is one of the most concerned topics to African media. 1/3 positive reports on China are of the Sino-African relationship. The African media generally believe that the development of Sino-African relationship will offer many opportunities to Africa, and the positive is much more than the negatives.  Moreover, they think that China’s development experience can give an example for African countries. The topic of Sino-African relationship became a key concern by the African media during Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Africa this June. African media at large think that Chinese leader’s visiting Africa specially showed the importance of Sino-African relationship and it infused fresh vitality into the traditional friendships. 

Al Ahram reports, “It’s a fortune that Egyptians can make friends with the people in such a great country, China. We all hope that both countries will get closer in the future.”  

Zambia Daily Mail said, “African Union are long for learning the policies from China and India, the two newly rising countries in Asia.” 

“China increases the investment in Africa”  

Most African media believe, the growth of Sino-Africa trade will produce a win-win effect. Especially it will be an opportunity to African economic development. It will help the African development. For instance, Chinese investment in Africa will create jobs for the locals. And the invested project can bring development to the local economy.

Uganda The New Vision commented that it will have the win-win effect because the rapid development of economy in China will surely accelerate the development in Africa. China and Africa will be complementary. If a strategic partnership with China is established, Uganda will benefit. Meanwhile, Uganda should think about how to offer Chinese investors better investing chances.  

“Aid the African allies selflessly” 

China’s great support to African countries won the praise of multitudinous media in Africa. Generally, most African media believe “The aid from China shows that China is an ally of Africa, and it is moving” Moreover, China offer its aid without any political conditions. China’s aid, including capital construction, health and resource development, has been thoroughly reported by African media.  

Senegal The Sun introduced President Abdoulaye Wade’s visit in China in detail, emphasizing that China’s help in building a thermal power station for Senegal so as to help Senegal relieve from the severe need of the electricity. The report also said “China has become an ally of Senegal.”  

Uganda The New Vision published a reader’s letter Acclaim for China, praising the visit of Premier Wen Jiabao, saying that Uganda people has been moved by Wen’s philanthropic act of donating money to the Centre for AIDS Control and Prevention..  

“A responsible great nation” 

Among the positive reports on China in African media, most of them were about China’s role in major international affairs. They consider China as a “responsible great nation”. Reports in June and July (2006) by African media on this aspect focused on two topics: 1.China actively mediates the North Korean nuclear issue; 2. China initiatively assists those international countries suffered from nature disasters.  

Ethiopian media reported that two Chinese cargo planes, with 100 tons of relief material worth 1.25 million US dollars, would depart from Shijiazhuang, Hebei province for the earthquake-stricken areas in Indonesia.  

Nigeria news agency said that China becomes the third largest food-aiding country in the world.  

Egyptian Al Ahram made a commentary report on the role of China as a permanent member in Security Council on the issue of North Korea nuclear crisis.  

“21st century is the century of China” 

Chinese democratic political construction, economic reform and development as well as the people’s living standards have attracted the media’s attention widely in Africa. They think the reform in China is successful, with the steady growth in economy and focusing on improving the democratic polity. Besides, they also are interested in the development in China, ranging from science & technology, culture, education to sports. The African media believes that China is getting more and more appealing to the foreigners.  

Al Ahram published the Chairman Hu Jintao’s statement on strengthening anti-corruption of China Communist Party.  

The World Record Trembles in Lausanne, a news roundup from Kenya media, reported the news on Liu Xiang’s breaking the world’s record in 110-meter hurdle.  

The media of Algeria and Nigeria all reported that Qinghai-Tibet railway broke the “life-forbidden zone”.  

The Angola media reported that China succeeded in experimenting on new engine of spaceship.  

Senegal The Sun published an article –“Chinese century” by chairman of Senegal-China Friendship Association, putting forward a view that the 21st century is century of China and the 22nd century will be the century of Africa.  

The negative reports mostly come from the western media 

We see lots of positive report on China; however, there are still some negative reports in African media, which are mostly quoted from the information of western news agencies or the so-called “international organizations”. As most African media have limited funds, generally they don’t have many few correspondents in foreign countries. Most reports about other countries and regions are from the western media; consequently, it inevitably affects the objectivity of the reports related to China.  

Three great discrepancies exist in China images

Owing to various reasons, the actual China’s image in Africa is different from expected. 

From the survey in International Herald Leader on China’s image among the African media and Africans, China’s image in Africa is inconsistent. The actual China’s image in Africa is different from expected. There are some overlaps between the expected and actual image. However, there are some big gaps too. 

Discrepancy 1: misjudge the strength of China 

There are two kinds of misjudging: overestimate and underestimate. 

While African people praise Chinese economic condition in general, there are some disturbing trends: Some African people overestimate Chinese economic development, and have some unrealistic expectations. For example, 26 people in a 60-survey (43%) said that the economic boom in China, to some extent, has challenged those traditional economic powers, like the US and the EU countries, and China has become an economic power in the world or a developed country. There are even some African media and surveyed people frequently using the words such as “challenge” and “threaten” when describing the economic relations between China, America and the EU.

However, at the same time, there are some underestimates. Wang Buzhi, General Director of Chinese Embassy of Senegal, pointed that most people know little about China because China has broken off diplomatic relations with Senegal, moreover, a few of them believe that China still remains at the stage before the introduction of reform and opening-up policies, and only some officers recognize that China is a new developing power. 

Discrepancy 2:“Old Brother” Needs “New Ideas”

For a long time, China has been offering Africa considerable aid, mainly by loan and building the infrastructure. Because of this, African people have favorable impression of China as “Old brother”. Nevertheless, as time goes by, Africans currently need innovative and diversified cooperation with China. They want technological aid instead of single-dimension economic aid. 

On Sino-African cooperation mode, 28 people in the 60 surveyed (44%) thought that China should encourage technological exchange with Africa so as to help those countries develop independently. A student from Gabon Bangor University said “China should consider the future-oriented policy. It should teach Africa how to fish instead of giving fish”. 

Abodula Hassan, an Egyptian, said that China should not just export commodities to Africa, but also pay attention to technological transfer, local workers training, and encouraging the technological exchange with African nations. 

Discrepancy 3: the degree of concern for Africa, increased? Or decreased? 

On the question of “whether Africa has gained more or less attention from China in the past 20 years”, there is a great discrepancy between the opinions of African people and those of the Chinese in Africa. 

Of the 52 surveyed Chinese in Africa, 15 % thought that Chinese government has paid less attention to Africa affairs since its reform and opening-up, while 71 % of them believed in opposite. 14 % of thought there were not much change

However on the same question, the Africans answered completely different. Of the 68 people surveyed, 7 % think that Chinese government had paid more attention to African affairs over the last 20 years, 76 % of them thought that it was less, and 17 % of them had no idea. The survey showed that most African people think that China paid less, instead of more, attention to African affairs since China started reform and opening-up policies, while China were more concerned with Africa in the 50s and 60s of the last century. 

One of the surveyee from South Africa said, China’s economy has been booming since its reform and opening-up. In the process of developing, China strengthened the relations with some developed countries, like the US and the EU countries while comparatively lessen the contact with African countries; consequently, African people have the impression that China is paying less attention to Africa. 

The first reason of the discrepancies: Need more positive publicity of China

The expected image of China in Africa and the actual one are quite different. One of the reasons is history-related: Western media have been dominating Africa for a long time, and it is hard to hear the voice from China in Africa. Most local English media is controlled by the western countries and has been reporting negative image of China for long time, which affected African view on China to some extent. 

The second reason of discrepancies: China and Africa are lack of all-rounded communication

It’s been a long time that most Sino-Africa communication only happens in Economy area, whereas there are less communications in education, culture, society, politics, or sports, which resulted in the unbalance information and one-sided understanding. It is another important reason for the discrepancies. 

Han Jun, chairperson of Overseas Chinese Association in Kenya, said frankly that the 11 trade-promoting centers established in Africa haven’t achieved the goal as expected on the whole. Europe and other developed countries have established many culture centers and schools in Kenya for all-rounded communication. China still has a long way to go in this aspect. 

He Wenping, from West-Asia and Africa Institute of China Socio-Science Academia, pointed out that many African countries and people considered China a rich and developed country. However, they actually know little about the difficulties and problems that China faced in the process of development. That’s why we should try our best to let them have the overall, complete and dichotomy understanding on Chinese national situation. 

The third reason of discrepancies: China should put off pragmatism  

As African nations grow need in economic development urgently and China expands its market economy, pragmatism, to some extent, influences the image of China in Africa. 

Long Shengdong, a former journalist from African branch of International Herald Leader, said that some Africans are over-expecting the aid from China, taking it for granted that China should help Africa for the sake of friendship with Africa because China is more developed than Africa. 

Xu Weizhong, from Modern International Relations Research Academia, emphasized that while dealing with the relation between China and Africa, neither should they just seek for quick success or instant return, nor should they merely pay attention to economic interests and neglect the overall development of China-African relations. The development problems — including poverty alleviation and UN Millennium Development Goals — should be given sufficient attention to. We should pay attention to a sustainable relation between China and Africa. 

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