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China in Africa: Implications for the International Development Regime

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Research on China's growing ties with African states has burgeoned in recent years, fed by the extensive coverage the subject has received in the Western media. Although current research has aimed to challenge the simplistic moral binaries found in media discourse, it is rarely conceptualized outside of the same dichotomous framework. Charting “progressive” adaptations in China's Africa policies towards “best practice,” it presumes the norms and standards of the existing aid and development regime the natural endpoint for China's engagement of Africa. This presumption ignores areas where Chinese policy, which draws on a different history and discourse to that of the established donors, departs from the West's agenda for Africa. Like the media reporting it aims to confront, current research actually works to reify an international development regime that many African states have found deeply problematic.

Countering the constructivist-derived idea that China can be readily “socialized” into existing frameworks, this paper treats China as a significant development actor whose emergence will actively shape, rather than passively adapt to, existing aid and development structures. This argument is substantiated by analysing the impact that distinctive aspects of China's interactions with Africa are having on international debates about aid and development policy, particularly in cases where Chinese policies have been promoted by African governments and others as a welcome alternative to Western approaches. The ability of the existing aid and development architecture to withstand this challenge will depend on the flexibility and pragmatism of established donors and international financial institutions, many of whom remain persistently loyal to the misplaced notion that China's engagement with Africa will lead to normative convergence on their terms. This paper points to the need for scholarship that critically examines both existing structures and Chinese policy in order to contribute to the building of an international development regime that is more closely aligned with the interests of the global South.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-02-01

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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