New Patterns of Neocolonialism? Economic Relations between China and Africa


Neocolonialism involves a country using political, economic or other resources in other countries to gain influence or control. It has commonly been understood as a relationship between the Western core and its Southern and Eastern counterparts. However, with the identity of the ‘core’ transforming as new emerging countries increase their share of global wealth, this pattern of neocolonialism might also be changing.

A potential example of this can be seen in the relationship between China and Africa.


The Chinese government produced a White Paper on Foreign Aid in 2014, in which it declared that ‘China upholds that the basic principles China upholds in providing foreign assistance are mutual respect, equality, keeping promise, mutual benefits, and win-win’.

Trade and Investment

By providing foreign assistance to Africa, China can benefit from access to new markets and raw materials.

However, the idea of mutual benefits can be seen in the terms of increasing infrastructure built by the Chinese, and access to cheap imports. Such imports include toys and textiles, which are widely accessible to the mass public. China also financed 10 hydroelectric power projects in 2007, as well investments to existing railways and the construction of new railways.

In return, 70% of African exports to China is composed of crude oil, which would help fuel its emerging economy. This can have consequences for Africa’s development. Crude oil is part of the primary sector, whereas industrialisation involves a greater secondary sector. Commodities in the primary sector are also often subject to price volatility. Furthermore, dependence on a particularly commodity can be harmful if China no longer requires crude oil from Africa, either due to price or alternative supply.

Currently, trade between the two is relatively modest, but has been growing and has potential to grow over the years. In 2008, Africa exported $52bn worth of goods to China, and imported $62bn, leaving Africa with a trade deficit of $10bn.


On the one hand, China’s demand for Africa’s resources helps provide potential for societies to emerge from persisting poverty patterns. However, for critics, this pattern resembles earlier Western demands for African supply. Whilst it is more void of political interference, China is arguably at the other extreme of doing too little, seen in the lack of efforts to improve governance and human rights in the continent.



Salisa Kaur

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