One of the reasons the China-Africa relationship is interesting is because even though it keeps expanding into new areas, some of this momentum is also driven by the long history between the two sides. Tracking China-Africa relations is to keep tabs on how old issues morph into new ones. Here are three such dynamics. In each case, they have a long history in the China-Africa relationship, yet they are also new trends that will reshape the relationship over the coming year and decade.
The last year has seen Beijing experiment with new approaches to public diplomacy. Gone are the staid interviews with CCTV: now Chinese diplomats in Africa have their own Twitter accounts. This rapid uptake meant that by late 2019, Chinese ambassadors were having fights with African ministers on social media. Some of these were related to African issues, for example, the spat that erupted when the Zimbabwean government misstated the amount of financing received from the Chinese government. But Chinese officials like Lin Songtian, the ambassador to South Africa, also used social media to take shots at US policy on Hong Kong. Up to now the US embassy in South Africa hasn’t responded to these attacks, but in 2020 western embassies in Africa will have to decide how best to deal with the new online prominence of Chinese spokespeople.
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