Chinese and Australian Engagement with Africa: A Comparative Study.

  • Esien Esiet

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study examines contemporary Chinese and Australian engagement with Africa from a comparative perspective, using examples from different states of the continent. The research maps the historical development of their relations, factors motivating the engagement, the strategies utilized, and the benefits and pitfalls for Africa. The conceptual framework for this thesis draws on selective evidence-based insights from Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism. Notwithstanding their points of differences, the combined breadth of these three theoretical perspectives in International Relations fulfils the need to demonstrate the material and ideational forces that have influenced the actions of the selected actors – China and Australia – on the African continent.

This research distinguishes itself by selecting a middle power, Australia, alongside a non-Western rising power – China. While China, which has become Africa’s largest investor, constitutes a logical choice for the theme of engagement with Africa, the selection of Australia is less obvious. It represents Western values without the burden of being seen as a competitive force against China, as the United States would. Australia is also unblemished by a colonial history in Africa as is the case for a number of European powers.

The choice of Africa as the site of engagement is also of significance. Despite its rich endowment of resources and its unprecedented pace of economic expansion since at least 2012, no other continent is as impoverished and underdeveloped as Africa. The main beneficiaries of Africa’s wealth are the corrupt state elites and foreign actors whose exclusive foreign interests take precedence over the majority of the population. This is not a problem for Africa alone but, in view of the continent’s importance to the security and prosperity of other states and their regions, it needs to be viewed as a world order problem.

Having shown that China’s and Australia’s relations with Africa are longstanding, the study argues that the motivation behind the renewed engagement with Africa represents ‘tripartite national objectives’: the advancement of economic, political, and military interests, nurtured with a range of ‘soft’ tools. The values of these two actors have also had an impact on how they have engaged Africa. The research finds that the increased engagement has brought with it indisputable benefits and prospects for Africa, though it was also evident that despite promises of engaging Africa on equal terms, some of the actions of China and Australia have been exploitative. The lessons drawn provide insights for better engagement practices and how these may be advanced.

This study, in terms of the comparative element, has hitherto not been undertaken. Given also the paucity of literature on Australia’s relations with Africa, this thesis further contributes to the existing scholarly work on the subject, while progressing also a more comprehensive analysis of China’s entry into Africa via the categories for engagement and the comparison with Australia as a middle power. The thesis concludes by emphasizing that collective responsibility is vital for the benefit of Africa and the world. This ultimately serves state and human interests more effectively by providing a more stable context for engagement.
Date of Award1 Oct 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorRosita Dellios (Supervisor) & James Ferguson (Supervisor)

Cite this