Is China preying on Africa’s resources and undermining development and democracy on the continent by supporting authoritarian regimes, as several scholars and analysts have claimed?1 This paper takes a contrary viewpoint and argues that China’s investments in Africa, now totaling well in excess of $100 billion and growing,2 could be ultimately counterproductive for China’s interests in Africa if the lessons of modernization theory hold, and if China continues to indiscriminately conduct business with Africa’s authoritarian regimes under its “no questions asked” foreign policy. According to the postulates of modernization theory, economic growth creates an educated middle class that aspires for democracy and a free society.3 Thus, if Chinese investments are, in fact, producing jobs in Africa and helping foster economic growth on the continent, then Chinese policymakers should be most worried about several attendant effects of economic development over the longer term, such as its mutual relationship with democracy and freer societies. Although the projected relationships and expectations between economic development and democracy have, so far, failed to emerge within China itself, the nucleus of such outcomes exists within many African societies, as this paper makes clear.
At the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit held in Beijing, China on September 3-4, 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated China’s “five-no approach” foreign policy in its relations with Africa as: “(i) no interference in African countries’ pursuit of development paths that fit their national conditions; (ii) no interference in African countries’ internal affairs; (iii) no imposition of our will on African countries; (iv) no attachment of political strings to assistance to Africa; (v) and no seeking of selfish political gains in investment and financing cooperation with Africa.”4 Going further, President Xi said: “We hope this “five-no” approach could apply to other countries as they deal with matters regarding Africa. For China, we are always Africa’s good friend, good partner and good brother. No one could undermine the great unity between the Chinese people and the African people.”5