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Who is in Charge?

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Recently much has been written about the role of “African agency” in the emergent relationship with China. It has been argued that previous writing on the subject of Sino-African relations presented an unbalanced picture, where an “all powerful” China was presented in opposition to subjugated and weak African states; thereby replicating previous Orientalist tropes about “Africa”. More recently work by Corkin, Mohan and others has argued that African political elites have much more power in shaping the nature of relations with China than previously thought. This paper seeks to conceptualise the nature of the power relations between China and African states by interrogating some of the concepts which have been deployed in these debates, such as “agency” and to test them through case studies of Angola and Zambia – two of the states with which China has been most engaged in Africa and two major commodity exporter “monoeconomies” – oil in the case of Angola and copper for Zambia.

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