Tingting Yuan (2019): Revisiting China’s Africa policies and educational
promises: towards a global convergence of development in the post-2015 era?, Globalisation, Societies and Education, DOI: 10.1080/14767724.2019.1595534
Dr Tingting Yuan, Bath Spa University
Comparing China’s 2006 (Policy 1) and 2015 (Policy 2) Africa policies, this recently published article reveals how China’s political discourse has become more confident, practical, and depoliticised. In particular, this paper shows how education is allocated, promised, and embedded in China’s ‘shared’ agenda, which is centred on development co-operation and mutual learning.
The first part of this paper looks at the changing discourse of China’s African policies. It is found that, first, Policy 2 has a more determined and confident discourse. It highlights the role of China in the current global political economy such as ‘the world’s second largest economy’ and ‘an active player in the current international system that has helped build it and contributed to it’, which was not emphasised in Policy 1. Policy 2 also provides a clearer argument regarding the need to sustain such a relationship and a plan for how to do so in the future. Moreover, Policy 2 underscores the common pursuit of development to realise both the ‘Chinese dream’ and ‘African dream’, thus creating a ‘shared future’. Second, China plays the role of the ‘actor’ rather than ‘declarer’ in Policy 2. The policy provides more details on co-operation plans, particularly ‘economic and trade co-operation’, ‘development co-operation’, and ‘cultural and people-to-people co-operation’. In contrast, Policy 1 did not have a section on ‘development co-operation’. Policy 2 made far more promises regarding ‘development’. These promises are more technical, practical, and achievable than those only briefly outlined in Policy 1. From the foreign aid perspective, Policy 2 represents a more ‘professional’ attempt to create an effective policy, one with reduced political and ideological rhetoric. Although it has yet to follow the example of Western donors in terms of aid delivery and evaluation, China has switched to a more action-based approach to demonstrate its strengthened commitment to international development since Policy 1.
Based on this comparison, the paper continues to reveal a key feature of the current African policy and related Forum on China-African cooperation (FOCAC) action plans – development based on mutual learning. Knowledge, skills, and experience sharing are highlighted in China’s promise. Defined as a key factor in Human Resource Development (HRD), education inevitably plays a key role here. This greatly exceeds formal education. Despite being specifically stated in the sub-section on ‘cooperation in education and HRD’ in Policy 2, educational activities like experience exchange activities conducted by ‘academic institutions’ and ‘joint research centres’ in science and technology also appear in the other sub-sections. In terms of the educational co-operation approaches stated in the policies, there is a growing emphasis on tertiary education and vocational training. This includes an increasing number of Chinese government scholarships and the provision of training in the form of seminars and workshops. This also involves enhanced university co-operation including the involvement of the top ranked universities in China and Africa. Despite all of these progresses in education in terms of increased quantity as well as emphasised quality improvement, what may be distinctive in China’s educational promise? The paper argues that, it is not the allocation of education in development or social development discourse that is distinctive, but the rationale of embedding education and training as an essential aspect of two-way but independent development. Moreover, it is not China’s approach of providing ‘education’ that is distinctive, but the ‘experience’ shared through educational activities. Not simply an area of co-operation in China’s Africa policy, education is embedded in many places in China’s experience sharing agenda.
The last part of the paper reflects on China’s current position in the global political economy. It tries to answer the question asked in the beginning of the paper: is the rise of China is conforming to the dominant trends in international development today? It is argued that the revealed features represent China’s harmonised position in international development rather than a clear convergence. These features did not change the nature of China’s distinctiveness, which is partly rooted in its unique history. While China may show some similarity to the patterns or approaches of the West in terms of its aid discourse and practice, it does not show a similar position in terms of influencing or persuading others in the process of national and global development.
This paper concludes by highlighting two main points. First, China is trying to consolidate its position and be more active through an updated version of policy discourse that represents both the (a) current international agenda on development and poverty reduction; and (b) its own understanding on the foundation of international development—that is, the ‘shared’ past, present ,and future. This brings a wide range of educational activities to an essential place in order to achieve development through ‘learning from one another’. Second, China has a special position on education. However, while devoting increasing effort to educational aid and co-operation, it is not shaping education policies globally but focus is on self-enhancement and exchanging its ‘indigenous solution’ to economic development via education.
Neither the Washington Consensus which promotes a globalised neoliberalism, nor the Beijing consensus which is based on a pragmatic and flexible ‘Chinese socialist economy’, is globally accepted today. If convergence is defined as agreement on one specific model of development, then there remains no convergence in this matter. However, it can be concluded that, using a convergent approach and technique, China brings its experience and logic of development to the current international agenda at a time when the country’s distinctiveness is becoming increasingly recognised. It is thus important to recognise that every nation state can historicise and position itself in a unique way; a convergent model may not be as essential as a convergent attitude towards incorporating diverse voices and solutions in the realm of international development.
Dr Tingting Yuan is a Senior Lecturer in International Education at Bath Spa University. She was a lecturer at Liverpool Hope University from 2012 to 2016 after she gained her Ph.D. in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Bristol. Her doctoral research was on ‘Chinese educational aid to Africa’ which included a series of fieldwork undertaken in Tanzania and China. Her broader research interests include public goods and education, globalisation and education, international aid of education, China-Africa cooperation, and other educational issues related to the global political economy.