China’s Human Rights Footprint in Africa


A significant amount of recent scholarship and commentary accuses China of plundering the African continent, coddling its dictators, and flouting labor and environmental standards. This paper makes the counterintuitive claim that, despite irrefutable cases of abuse, China’s engagement with Africa has actually improved the human rights conditions of millions of Africans. First, it places China’s abuses in context, showing that they differ little from the abuses and patronage politics of the major Western powers. Second, it examines the evolution of international relations between China and various African countries, from the exportation of political revolution in the 1950s and 1960s, to the promotion of human capital in the 2000s and 2010s. Third, it catalogs the many recent contributions in the educational, agricultural, infrastructural and medical fields that China had made to African development. By challenging the dominant narratives on both theoretical and empirical grounds, I call for a reexamination of a critically important, but often misunderstood, pattern of interactions between China and Africa, a nexus that is shaping world affairs and perceptions in unprecedented ways.


human rights, right to development, south-south relations, China-Africa, China, colonialism

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51 Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 626 (2013