African civil society organisations: Chinese perceptions

How should African CSOs engage China? – Published on Pambazuka News, by Xiao Yuhua, Sept. 16, 2010.

The following is an extract from Pambazuka Press’s new book, ‘Chinese and African Perspectives on China in Africa’, now available at ‘Chinese and African Perspectives’ brings together the views and analysis of a range of Chinese and African commentators, who discuss the impact, cooperation and challenges of the growing relations between the Asian giant and African continent.

The strengthening of Sino-African relations has attracted interest across the world. As a matter of fact, the red-hot relationship between the Middle Kingdom and African countries is so significant that it might be a prelude to the formation of a new world economic and political order which favours not only the developed North, but also the underdeveloped South. 

In this process, civil society has an irreplaceable role to play, as inter-cultural exchanges and understanding will not come automatically as by-products of growing economic and political ties. Exchanges and understanding between cultures are highly important for building a peaceful world, without which the common evils of conflicts and confrontations – be they ethnic, religious, political or cultural – cannot be resolved. It is in these areas that Chinese and African civil society organisations (CSOs) can demonstrate their unique functions.

It is imperative to stress, however, that Chinese and African CSOs have different characteristics, thus presenting challenges for mutual understanding and dialogue. In this chapter I will discuss the mainstream opinions of Chinese people about African CSOs and how African CSOs should present themselves to China.


It would not be proper to generalise about the opinions of Chinese people as the country and its people are much more diverse than most people think. The much-hailed and publicised Sino-African relations are an important factor in shaping Chinese perceptions about African CSOs, generating different views in different sectors about African CSOs. Therefore, it is necessary to examine Chinese perceptions of African CSOs from the different perspectives of the government, the general public, academic circles, businesses and Chinese CSOs.

The government: … //


After a tentative discussion of the topic, I have come to the following conclusions:

  • Since the country adopted its reform and opening-up policies 30 years ago, opinions about African CSOs in China have been diverse.
  • The political atmosphere in China has become more and more open and inclusive over the past three decades, and the space for the activities of both domestic and foreign CSOs has also expanded dramatically. Especially in the wake of China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2001, more international CSOs are flooding into the long-isolated country.
  • There is a lot of work which African CSOs can do to improve their knowledge of China, and they can first get into China through government-affiliated entities, research institutions or through partnerships with other Chinese CSOs to achieve their goals.
  • There is enormous potential for Chinese and African civil society to strengthen cooperation and dialogue. Mutual understanding can be achieved if African CSOs engage China in different ways with different approaches, and vice versa.

Speaking generally, the role of CSOs in Sino-African relations requires greater attention as a potentially effective alternative to solving some of the problems hindering the healthy development of the relationship between China and Africa. (full long text).

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