Allegedly, China has been trying — and somewhat succeeding — to seduce Africa for years. One might ask, how?
Maria Repnikova, a political scientist and assistant professor at Georgia State University, dove deep into this topic Friday afternoon, as she lectured about the pragmatic seduction China uses in Ethiopia, the implications that come with it and comparable seductions happening with other countries.
From the moment she started talking, Repnikova captured the audience’s attention. Her flow was riveting, and she never once stumbled over her words.
As a political scientist, she has done field research and conducted interviews in both Ethiopia and China. She used the data gathered in her research to explain the delicate dynamic China has with Ethiopia.
Repnikova stated that China’s unique type of seduction combines multiple types of power.
“There is no such thing as ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power by China because China’s model of pragmatic seduction combines the two," Repnikova said.
Nicknamed the “little China of Africa,” Ethiopia is one of the largest loan recipients and manufacturers for China. China creates factories in Ethiopia that produce items for Chinese exportation. Ethiopia is also home to a bottle recycling program that sends plastic bottles back to China to make jeans from the recycled material.
Because of the heavy Chinese influence in the area, Ethiopia is now similar to China in ideology, environment and economy, Repnikova explained.
On top of the seductive economical incentives for Ethiopia, China also has lucrative offerings for students and young professionals. China provides the largest portion of study abroad opportunities and the largest portion of international internships to Ethiopia.
Taylor Sloan, a senior majoring in political science who attended the talk, explained that she was surprised to learn of this academic power.
“I was shocked at how many African people go to China for opportunities. A number upwards of about 60,000? That’s crazy to think about,” Sloan said.
Despite all of these seductive efforts made by China, Ethiopia still stands its ground and only takes what it wants from China. China tries to “model” Ethiopia after itself, but Ethiopia doesn’t enjoy that word; the Ethiopians generally think that there are many lessons to learn from all Asian countries, not just China, Repnikova pointed out.
There are also catches to the opportunities China offers to scholars and professionals. Journalists, whenever covering a topic related to China, are often required to say only good things about China. Otherwise, the journalist might destroy the next wave of journalists’ opportunities to report on China, Repnikova explained.
Yang Zhong, a professor of political science here at UT, elaborated on the dynamic between Ethiopia and China.
“Both sides are being opportunistic, so China sees Africa as economic expansion, and the African countries are obviously interested in being with China because of the economic benefits,” Zhong said.
Repnikova’s talk cleared up what exactly it is that China is attempting to accomplish with Africa and settled debates of whether it was soft power, neo-colonialism, neo-imperialism or anything in between. Repnikova stated it is a pragmatic seduction, and that China is likely just testing out this method on Africa before using it on the rest of the world.