From the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 to its economic opening in 1978, China’s Africa policy was heavily influenced by ideology. During this period, China’s foreign policy was deeply impacted by the unique international environment of the time . At the time, China placed itself on the front line of the struggle against colonialism, imperialism, and revisionism in the African continent; by linking its ideological position with its foreign policy, China’s diplomacy in Africa was initially circumscribed by Beijing’s ideological position .
Then at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, China’s diplomacy was affected by a new mentality. Some scholars have described China’s goals in Africa at that time as promoting Maoism on the continent . The motto exporting revolution became the principal objective toward the Africa countries. This campaign threatened the power and position of many African governments and deviated from the principle of non-interference in internal affairs. At the end of the 1960s, the People’s Republic of China ended its policy of exporting revolution and started to provide more aid to the African countries.
As a result, the broad-based relationship between China and Africa gradually recovered . In fact, using free aid as the basis to build bilateral relations was an approach largely formulated in 1963-64, when Premier Zhou Enlai visited some African countries and proposed the Five Principles Governing the Development of Relations with Arab and African Countries and the Eight Principles of Economic Assistance; During this period, China supported the political struggles for African independence as well as provided some free aid to Africa. At the same period, the People’s Republic of China also helped African countries by building several structures as stadiums, hospitals, conference centers (those were seen as national symbols of independence and they embodied the spirit of cultural decolonization in the mind of African people); These China-supported projects played an important role in the formation of the African nationhood. Again, these projects provided important assistance to African countries in need of moral support, and also built some positive impressions of the People’s Republic of China in the minds of the African people, setting at the same time, a solid foundation for the path ahead in Sino-African relations. The end of the Cultural Revolution marked a shift in the People’s Republic of China’s policy toward the African continent from one policy based almost completely on ideological alliance to another policy with a far more pragmatic and diversified approaches . In fact, the 12th CPC National Assembly in 1982 officially marked a shift from a policy that emphasized “war and revolution” to another policy emphasizing “peace and development.” Equally, the People’s Republic of China shifted from policies that accentuated that “economy serves diplomacy” to policies based on “diplomacy serves the economy.” In the same year, the Chinese premier visited the African continent and announced the Four Principles on Economic and Technological Cooperation with Africa; this shifted the focus to practical effectiveness in assistance and relations more generally, as well as to a spirit of developing together . The 12th CPC Assembly decided on two strategic elements that had implications for China’s policy toward Africa: the first that the country would emphasize Chinese domestic economic development; and the second that China would pursue a peaceful and independent foreign policy. These were significant to the African countries in the sense that China required bringing the relationship down to earth and at the same time basing it on very practical goals that were within its means. Again, the CPC Assembly established principles for a new type of inter-state political relationship based on Independence, Complete Equality, Mutual Respect and Non-interference in Others’ Internal Affairs. Relations based on these principles initiated by the People’s Republic of China have convinced many Africans countries of China’s sincerity in respecting African political choices and helping to promote economic and trade cooperation; This new direction also shifted China’s focus to economic co-development in its work with Africa. Consequently, more extensive cooperation took place on far more diverse levels than before in this Sino-African cooperation . Another significant change in China’s African policy was the change from providing aid for free to aid intended to benefit both sides economically. In fact, as said below, the People’s Republic of China aided the African continent with billions of dollars from 1956 to 1978 despite the fact that its own economic situation was precarious. History has shown that aid alone is unlikely to considerably transform the reality of African poverty, therefore, in the 1980s; China attuned its economic assistance to the African countries by attempting to help them help themselves. Improving Africa’s ability to self-develop was seen to be more useful than free economic aid and China also began to explore reforming its foreign trade system and its methods to foreign aid . Since diplomatic relations between China and Africa were first established in 1956, China’s African policy has shifted from an unsustainable and ideologically motivated approach to political pragmatism and on to the present relationship based on economic pragmatism .