by Xiaoling Zhang.

As the main engine of global economic growth in the 21st century, China is increasing its footprint in the four corners of the world. Africa is no exception. In fact it is one of the regions where China is more active than ever: today, China is Africa’s largest trading partner, overtaking the United States as Africa’s largest trade partner in 2009, and the bilateral trade volume surging from $10 billion in 2000 to more than $160 billion in 2011.

As China implements an outreach campaign designed to cultivate the attraction of its language, culture, values and diplomacy around the world, China has also accorded great importance to strategies of gaining influence in Africa, which makes some observers believe that China has already displaced European, American and Japanese diplomatic and capitalistic soft power in many sub-Saharan African countries. In addition to the setting up of 29 Confucius Institutes and Classrooms in 22 African countries, according to Hu Jintao at the opening ceremony of the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) on 19 July 2012. China’s initiatives in Africa include infrastructural and technical support to the media sector, and the greatly increased media presence.

Although media co-operation has developed more slowly and unevenly than other aspects of the China–Africa bilateral relationship, the engagement of the Chinese media wit Africa greatly increased from 2000, when it started to work under the framework of FOCAC, initiated in 2000 to provide a framework to foster China-Africa cooperation including the media sphere.

The major changes came in 2006, when Xinhua moved its Regional Editorial Office from Paris to Nairobi, a central hub in Africa for China’s ‘going abroad’ media project. The launch in 2006 of the state-run China Radio International (CRI) in Kenya can also be seen in this light. Similarly, CNC World, the English-language TV channel of the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reached cable television audiences in Africa from January 1, 2011, following an agreement between CNC and South Africa-based MIH Group.

Xinhua’s launch of mobile news in sub-Saharan Africa in April, 2011, also enables about 17 million Kenyan mobile subscribers to receive Xinhua’s latest news. More recently, China’s broadcasting giant, China Central Television (CCTV), launched CCTV Africa, a news production centre based in Nairobi in January 2012. It provides a one-hour programme named Africa Live for the global CCTV News in English every day, and is planning to increase this to two hours daily from January 2013. In addition to an increased presence in Africa, CCTV is also keen to enter local networks by exchanging news programs with local media organizations. The deal between the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Cooperation and CCTV in late 2011 is a case in point.

What is noteworthy is that for the first time, the Chinese media are hiring locals – a strategy common among global news media broadcasters – to ensure the expression of more subtle views. For instance, CCTV currently has over seventy local employees, just over forty being from China. This expansion of the Chinese TV giant is especially noticeable at a time when many Western media houses are struggling to survive. Many local media professionals who have worked in private media companies are attracted by the advanced technology of CCTV and the international platform. Trained for three weeks in Beijing before they took up the job, they bring with them different experiences to their new jobs.

While Chinese media such as the CCTV Africa News Production Centre suffer from many limitations, such as credibility due to its nature and externalisation of domestic practices, China is without a doubt claiming its place in the global media space, and its media is gearing up to compete internationally.

Dr Xiaoling Zhang is a Senior Fellow at the China Policy Institute and an Associate Professor at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, the University of Nottingham.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

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