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China’s New Approach to Public Diplomacy in Africa

Chinese diplomatic missions in Africa have long had a reputation for being inaccessible, even unapproachable. Ambassadors often shied away from unscripted public events, journalists seeking any kind of comment were largely brushed away and engagement with local NGOs and civil society actors was unheard of.

That’s now starting to change.

Chinese ambassadors like Lin Songtian in Pretoria and Wu Peng in Nairobi are breaking the mold of the once stiff, media-shy Chinese envoy. Ambassador Lin is regularly seen walking the streets of Johannesburg, shaking hands, kissing babies and going on TV for live press conferences. Similarly, in Nairobi, Ambassador Wu, who reportedly speaks Swahili, is hosting at his embassy climate change activists who opposed China’s support of coal power plant on Lamu Island.


Chinese ambassador to Kenya Wu Peng invites deCOALonize members for a meeting tells them he personally doesn’t support coal plants. Photo via deCOALonize.

All of this would have been unimaginable just a few years ago and points to a significant change in China’s public diplomacy strategy in Africa, according to Cliff Mboya, a Kenyan-native and doctoral candidate at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Cliff is an expert in Chinese public diplomacy based the six years he worked as an Information and Public Affairs Officer at the Chinese embassy in Nairobi. Now, he’s writing his dissertation on the topic and researching some of the significant changes that Beijing is now beginning to implement across Africa.

Show Notes:

About Cliff Mboya:

Cliff Mboya is a Ph.D. candidate in International Politics in the School of International Relations and Public Affairs, Fudan University (China). He holds an M.A in Development Communication from the University of Nairobi and a B.A in International Relations from the United States International University-Africa. He has experience in diplomacy and international relations combined with Journalism. He interned at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Kenya before joining “Diplomat East Africa” magazine as a junior writer. He joined the Chinese Embassy in Kenya as Information and Public affairs officer in January 2011 and worked there for six years before leaving to pursue his PhD. in 2006. He has published topical and opinion pieces in several local and international newspapers (Daily Nation, The Standard, The Star, The People, China Daily Africa and Europe editions) covering topics relating to Kenya-China and China-Africa relations. His research interests include China-Africa relations, Chinese politics and diplomacy and political theory. His Ph.D. is on China’s Public diplomacy in Kenya.

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