Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Political Science

Committee Chair(s)

Huiyun Feng


Huiyun Feng


Karin deJonge-Kannan


Kai He


China has increasingly intensified engagement with Africa since 2000. In 2001, trade between Africa and China was at $10.6 billion. In 2011, trade had exploded to over $160 billion.1 Chinese investment in Africa has grown from tens of millions of dollars to over $10 billion.2 This surge of trade and investment in Africa has not yet been matched by any other global power. Recently, Hu Jintao doubled China’s loan commitment to Africa to over $20 billion. This increase of trade and investment reflects a growing Chinese influence in Africa.3 What caused this increased Chinese interest in a continent that has been overlooked by the rest of the world?

As China increases its influence among the world’s major powers, many argue that it will soon confront the United States. Whether or not this happens will be determined by how successful China is at creating new “friends” in the international system. As the United States’ primacy maintains a high level of cultural and economic influence throughout the world, China may have to create new economic, political, and social norms in order to attract new partners. These partners will help offset the United States’ dominating influence over the global political order. This paper argues that an increased level of trade and investment in Africa is one of China’s strategies to create a new identity by engaging in Social Creativity, as Social Identity Theory (SIT) specifies.

First, current theories of why China is engaging in Africa will be evaluated. This evaluation includes theories of Liberalism, Colonialism/Neo-colonialism, and Neo-realism. The most effective at answering the question of why China invests so heavily in Africa is neo-realism, arguing that China engages Africa to ascertain resources and gain a geopolitical advantage in the region,. However, this does not fully explain Chinese behavior in the region. The paper will then explain the origins and applications of Social Identity Theory in explaining China’s Africa policy. After laying out the theoretical discussion, the paper will analyze two case studies. The first is a comprehensive look at China’s behavior and policy towards Africa as a group of states. The second is an investigation of how SIT applies on a micro level, using statements and news sources to analyze the case of Zimbabwe.