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Authoritarian Diffusion? China’s Rise and the Spread of Chinese Ideas of Development, Governance, and Democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa

China
Comparative Politics
Democracy
Julia Bader
University of Amsterdam
Julia Bader
University of Amsterdam

Abstract

This paper investigates how the rise of China affects the political and economic ideas in Sub-Saharan African polities. With China’s increased economic and cultural presence abroad in the new millennium, the Western developmental model and liberal ideas have come under pressure. Pessimists fear that China’s unconditional aid undermines Western attempts to strengthen democracy and good governance. Indeed, the normative underpinnings of China’s development experience, namely the prioritization of economic needs and political stability over political participation, freedom, and rights directly contradict liberal ideals. Analysts agree that there is no replicable ‘China Model’ in the sense of economic reforms and no such thing as a ‘Beijing Consensus’. But the normative underpinnings of China’s experience, namely the prioritization of economic needs and political stability over political participation, freedom, and rights, are less disputed and directly contradicting Western liberal ideals. The Chinese government is investing actively in elite exchanges, cultural education (Confucius institutes) and its media presence abroad to promote such alternative ideas. These efforts, initially designed to increase China’s soft power also aim at shaping alternative discourses to the West’s on matters of state sovereignty, democracy, development, and the international order, and they are particularly targeted at Sub-Saharan Africa. This paper investigates whether Chinese developmental ideas spread to SSA and, if so, how. Combining different existing geocoded datasets, it looks at large segments of SSA society in various countries to examine how individual-, local-, and national-level factors and exposure to economic (aid projects) versus ideational presence (Confucius Institutes) of China affect citizens’ perspectives on democracy, governance, and development.