Mapping the Future of China–Africa Relations: How the Continent can Benefit

Image: Getty, Rodger Bosch/AFP
Image: Getty, Rodger Bosch/AFP

China is Africa’s largest trading partner, and deeper China–Africa engagement has the potential to transform the continent’s trade.


  • China is Africa’s largest trading partner, and enhanced China–Africa cooperation has the potential to transform the continent’s trade and boost its development prospects.
  • There is much scope for the newly formed African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the Chinese-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in which Africa is already well entrenched, to act as the pillars and coordination points for enhanced China–Africa trade and investment.
  • This paper explores four different options for future Africa–China engagement under the AfCFTA and BRI, examining both the benefits and pitfalls of each option.
  • Between the ill-advised ‘business-as-usual’ approach (option 1) and the ambitious, comprehensive free trade agreement between China and the entire African continent (option 4) lie targeted and managed approaches (options 2 and 3) which show strong potential.
  • As African countries gear up for stronger engagement with China, leveraging the synergies between the AfCFTA and BRI, they need to be aware of and guard against some of the pitfalls of trading with China, particularly the risk of African markets being swamped by cheap Chinese imports, which will threaten Africa’s manufacturing and industrialisation drive.

12 Nov 2021