A decade ago, China’s influence in Africa was limited. Its aid programs were hardly significant, its diplomats relatively unskilled. And many Chinese were unsure about their country’s role as an international actor. In most international forums, China did little other than defend core interests, like the “one China” principle. Recently, however, continued strong economic growth, a more sophisticated generation of Chinese leaders, better scholarship in China on Africa, and a domestic population more confident in China as a global actor have encouraged Beijing to take a more proactive approach to foreign affairs.

Beijing’s motives are clear. China’s growing industries demand new energy and raw material suppliers; its exporters want markets; its diplomats require support in international organizations; and its propaganda still seeks support from allies to advance Chinese interests and, when necessary, to counter the United States.

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This article originally appeared in Current History, May 2006.