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Niall Duggan: Deepening Cooperation and Trilateral Relations between China, Africa and Europe

Updated: Jan 7, 2023

Niall Duggan, Professor of University College Cork

Dr Niall Duggan is currently with University College Cork. He is a lpecturer in the Department of Government and Politics, teaching international relations, International political economy, and Asian politics. His research interests focus on east Asian foreign policy making and international relations, global economic governance, Chinese foreign policy, and South-South cooperation.

His recent research includes "Chinese Outbound Tourism to Namibia and South Africa" and "Competition and Compromise among Chinese Actors in Africa: A Bureaucratic Study of Chinese Foreign Policy Actors."


Deepening Cooperation and Trilateral Relations between China, Africa and Europe

1. You claimed that China and Africa both have a history of being colonized and they are both today facing similar development challenges, so it has been easier for them to create a relationship based on common perspectives on issues such as sovereignty and national priorities. Is it means that China Africa Cooperation is the future development trend, and it will become the focus of trilateral cooperation or trilateral dialogue between China, the EU and Africa?


China importance to the global economy alone would mean it will play a centre role in Africa development. It is the Chinese model of development however which will have the most impact on African's development. The Chinese model of development is a real alternative to the model offer by the West since the end of the cold war. This is not to say that it is a more positive or more negative model then the model offers by the West, or it will lead to a greater level of development in Africa. Both models have their advantages and disadvantage which will suit different African states in different ways. The China model allows African leaders to point at a model which design in part on non-western norms and values and was successful allowing African leaders to believe an African model of development maybe possible. It is the availability of a successful alternative model that will help create African agency allowing African states to take their own path to development.


What does this mean for China-Africa cooperation in the future? I believe that China must self-reflect on its new role in the world. China is a more powerful state then it was when the Beijing Declaration of the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation was sign in 2000. The impact of China’s action in Africa (both positive and negative) are far greater now than 20 years ago. The future of Sino-relations if it is to result in helping Africa overcome development challenges needs to allow African states to identify weakness in its relations with external others including China and support cooperation with partner who have the greatest ability to deal with a particular issue. This maybe done a trilateral dialogue model, or it could be done through the NDB or AIIB funding

2. You pointed out that conceptual gaps between the EU and China in human rights are barriers to trilateral security. Will the conceptual gaps lead to competition or even conflicts between the countries in Africa?


Conceptual gaps by their very nature led to misunderstanding and misperceptions. These in turn can make it difficult for trust to be built between states. So overall they led towards competition and conflict unless managed through dialogues and exchange. Overall Africa states have been very good at managing conceptual gaps among African states as has been shown in the rapid development in regional cooperation in Africa over the past few years.


3. You held that “the lack of coordination by European actors is a key challenge for trilateral cooperation in traditional security. Both China and leading actors in Africa can play divide and rule with the EU by pitting member states against one another”. Could you elaborate it based on a specific case?


There are EU has member states with colonial legacy in Africa such as France, Belgium Spain, Portugal, Germany, the Netherlands and now ex member the UK, however other member states such as Poland and Estonia which do not any colonial past in Africa and other member such as Ireland and Finland who suffer aspect of colonial rule by other European states. The result is that these states do not see eye to eye in terms of the overall direction of the EU development policy, or how to overcome security challenges in Africa and often employ domestic aid structures and investment policy in very different ways to each other making coordination very difficult. Lack of coordination at an EU level means that is open to member states own domestic policy becoming counterproductive to the wider EU policy. Both China and African states can take advantage of this by support the member state policy which best suit their own goals removing some of the leverage of the EU level policy.

4. South African Communist Party was born almost at the same time as the Communist Party of China. The relationship between them is increasingly close and friendly. In your opinion, what is the role of the identity of the Communist Party in the development of China Africa relations?


The impact of identity is something which is very hard to measure as it changes overtime to reflect wider political and social issues. The identity of the Communist Party in the 1940s, through to the 1970s played a key role in Sino-Africa relations as it helps to set the struggle for liberation in Africa in a wider context of the global economy and global capital. It is difficult to argue that the identity of the Communist party still plays the same important role anymore beyond bring part a historical frame for the narrative of the relationship. This is not to say that the identity is unimportant it may play a very important role for members of both parties, but it is unclear that the identity of the Communist Party still has a measurable impact on wider Sino-Africa relation. The reduction in the important of the Party to Sino-African relations could be the result of an increased awareness in the public in both China and Africa of each other's cultures and people. In a way it could be the victim of its own sucess.


Editor Assistant Research Fellow: Xianglin Gu

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