Power plays and balancing acts: the paradoxical effects of Chinese trade on African foreign policy positions

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  • Hertie School of Governance
  • Trinity Coll Dublin


There has been substantial focus on China’s influence in Africa in recent years. Some argue that China’s growing economic ties with African states have increased its political influence across the continent. This article examines whether trade with China leads African states to adopt more similar foreign policy preferences to China in the United Nations. We examine foreign policy similarity using voting patterns in the United Nations General Assembly and country statements in the United Nations General Debate. The analysis demonstrates that more trade with China has paradoxical effects on foreign policy positions of African states—it leads them to align more closely with US foreign policy positions in the United Nations, except on human rights votes. Our findings suggest that African states are engaged in balancing behavior with external powers whereby African elites seek to play off rival powers against one another in order to strengthen their own autonomy and maximize trade.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)224-246
Number of pages23
JournalPolitical Studies
Issue number1
Early online date23 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020


  • China, Africa, foreign policy preferences, trade, United Nations, text analysis, general debate, general assembly, General Assembly, General Debate

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