The Harvard University Asia Center, the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, the Center for African Studies and East Asian Legal Studies, Harvard Law School are collaborating on a four-year initiative on Africa and China. This will include, among other activities, a research/planning workshop in Fall 2015 as well as two conferences, in Shanghai and Cape Town, in subsequent years.
An impressive aspect of the globalization of our era is the movement from established European and North American influences in Asia and Africa to the cross-connections between Asia and Africa themselves. Within that non-western sphere of interests, the connection between China and Africa looms large. China, for the past decades, has built substantial political, economic, security and cultural ties with Africa organized around policies of extraction of resources, trade, and global influence. China has been accused of being more interested in extraction than it has in development. But in fact, China has also been engaged in social development in Africa, including the long-standing involvement with health care projects.
The extent and depth of these connections is already quite impressive and growing at a substantial rate. Faced with African criticism of what its real interests are, China has increasingly emphasized such things as humanitarian assistance, global health, education development, institutional development and other activities indicating a more balanced approach to Africa. Conversely, we are also interested in the presence of Africa in China and the projection of African interest in business, trade and related areas into the Chinese setting.
As we look at the presence of China in Africa, we see the development of a field that has yet to find its overarching questions but is filled with interesting specific topics: such as trade, migration, agriculture, urbanization, health, mining, and the like. While scholars and other interested observers have examined these and many more dimensions of China’s involvement with Africa, it is still too early to say what will be the leading themes that cross cut these empirical domains and that set out projects for academic research.
Exploring the relationship between Africa and China will contribute to the building of a new academic field. In this regard, the study of Africa and China can become a model of studying other interactions between non-Western nations that are changing the very meaning of globalization. The activities of the Harvard Initiative on Africa and China will aim at elucidating these themes and helping to formulate an intellectual agenda for academic research and teaching.