Racializing China–Africa Relations: A Test to the Sino-African Friendship

New Journal Article from Centre Fellow Eric Cezne

Postdoc Research Fellow Eric Cezne has recently published a co-authored paper titled 'Racializing China–Africa Relations: A Test to the Sino-African Friendship'. In the paper Cezne and collaborating author Roos Visser (Free University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands) explore and problematize the dichotomy between (among others) the economic friendship and cultural tensions between China and Africa. This South-South constellation is a marked departure from both earlier and current research which has largely focused on North-South/White-Black binaries and represents a penetrating and nuanced view on how the compounded concept of 'race' plays into Chinese and African (inter)relations has impacted and steered economic and cultural interactions over time.

Key to the article is the term 'racialization', which the authors engage in as 'simultaneous triangulations between "race", gender, and geopolitics'. The problematic term 'race', and what exactly is intended by 'racialization' are both defined in such a way as to avoid historical and biological misunderstandings. The authors trace the evolution of the China-Africa interactions and examine how 'race' orders, mediates and co-constitutes these relationships. A population can become racialized when socio-cultural and, at times, xenophobic norms dictate. Cezne and Visser point toward the Covid-19 pandemic crisis as an important instance when the economic 'friendship' between Africa and China gained an extremely negative tone, at least in the Chinese cultural context. Friendship has been touted by both sides, but not without instances of racialization, indicating that these partnerships are not without cultural tension, paranoia, and prejudice. The authors assert that racialization is multidirectional and that racialized politics and practices are enacted by both Chinese and African actors, across both the Africans-in-China and Chinese-in-Africa contexts. The pursuit of friendship is not without its hurdles, despite the assertions of the various states involved. In their concluding remarks, the authors propose that 'the racialization framework is especially suitable as it affords the theoretical tools to understand "racial" constructions of difference and hierarchy as processes–rather than natural or pre-determined incidents'. As a consequence, an analysis of the multidimensional, multiscalar, and entangled logics of race relations is suggested.


While contemporary China–Africa relations are often discussed in (geo)political and economic terms, they cannot be disentangled from ‘racial’ orderings and tensions. Still, ‘race’ remains underexplored in these encounters. This article seeks to further the conversation on the role of ‘race’ in China–Africa relations. We build on the concept of 'racialization' to examine the various ways in which race shapes both the Chinese-in-Africa and Africans-in-China contexts. We do so without losing sight of historical constructions and socio-political drivers. Drawing and expanding on a burgeoning strand of China–Africa ‘race’-related research, we argue that racialization processes are fused with strategic interests, historical “racial” consciousnesses, and political and economic discontent. Our analysis questions oft-repeated programmatic claims of a ‘Sino-African friendship’ and posits that thinking through ‘race’ is fundamental for an adequate comprehension of the narratives and modalities configuring China–Africa relations.


Read the article here.


JAAS is a peer-reviewed journal of area studies recognised for cutting-edge disciplinary and interdisciplinary research on important and timely issues and debates. The areas of social science, humanities, and public policy research that focus on the dynamics of global change and development of Asian and African nations, societies, cultures, and diasporas. The journal also welcomes comparative scholarly contributions that deal with cross-national and global perspectives. 



Cezne, Eric, and Visser, Roos (2023). 'Racializing China–Africa Relations: A Test to the Sino-African Friendship'. Journal of Asian and African Studies, https://doi.org/10.1177/00219096231168062.