China-Africa lecture series explores global implications of complex partnerships

Author: Christine Cox

Posters Fall 2019 China Africa4 Reduced

A five-part lecture series beginning September 17 will examine the increasingly complex relationship between China and Africa.

Sponsored by the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, the series questions the roles of China and Africa in the world, combined and separate; the effects of China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative on African countries; and how this intercontinental relationship influences the world.

All lectures are free and open to the public.

The series launches with a lecture by Joshua Eisenman, an associate professor of global affairs who specializes in China-Africa relations. His lecture, “Insurmountable Asymmetry? Influence and Agency in China-Africa Relations,” will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 17 in Jenkins and Nanovic Halls 1050.

EisenmanJoshua Eisenman

Examining the China-Africa relationship is especially important at this time, Eisenman explained. “We are a transitory moment in the study of China-Africa relations, where for a decade or more, people tended to look primarily at the economic side of the relationship,” he said. 

“But now we see a rapid expansion of political and military linkages—an evolution in the relationship from almost entirely economics-focused to more balanced across politics, economics and military. And that means that we now need to do a reassessment.”

"What does this mean for development? What does it mean for human rights?"

Eisenman, who joined the Keough School of Global Affairs in July, studies the political economy of China’s development and its foreign relations with the United States and the developing world. His lecture will draw on the question of how small African countries seek to gain agency in relation to China and how China has responded. 

To investigate such questions, Eisenman has collaborated with David H. Shinn, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso who previously served with U.S. Foreign Service at embassies in Kenya, Tanzania, Mauritania, Cameroon, and Sudan. 

In recent years Eisenman and Shinn have conducted more than 200 interviews in China and five African countries and will publish their findings in a forthcoming book.

This partnership between sinologist Eisenman and Africanist Shinn has been fruitful, especially in keeping each other in check, Eisenman explained. “If I make a generalization that is correct about one African country, but not about the other 53, he puts me in my place,” Eisenman said. “And if he makes a generalization about China, then I try to remind him that that might not always be the case. We come from different vantage points and different generations in terms of the ways we look at these things.”

"Now we see a rapid expansion of political and military linkages—an evolution in the relationship."

This closer examination is crucial as political relationships are developing rapidly with African countries and China, especially with the Belt and Road Initiative, Eisenman said. “Now the Washington policy community has to pay attention to China and Africa relations. So everybody’s scratching their heads about what does this mean for development? What does it mean for human rights? 

“I think at this point these are unanswered questions, so it’s a good time to take stock and think about some of them in light of the last 10 years.”

The second lecture in the series will be delivered by Landry Signé, the David M. Rubenstein Fellow in the Global Economy and Development Program at the Brookings Institution. “Capturing Africa’s potential? China’s Evolving Role and Competition with Global Powers in Africa” will be held at 3:30 p.m. on November 19 in 1050 Jenkins and Nanovic Halls.

Spring lectures will be delivered by Howard French, professor of journalism at Columbia University; Lina Benabdallah, assistant professor of politics and international studies at Wake Forest University; and Yun Sun, senior fellow and co-director of the East Asia Program and director of the China Program at the Stimson Center. Details for these lectures are forthcoming.