In line with its growing economic involvement in Africa, China has
ploughed hundreds of millions of dollars into the continent’s media
through everything from a Nigerian satellite to a Kenyan radio station,
writes Michael Tsingo. Around 35 countries are believed to have
benefited from measures that include training, donations and loans.

Cheng Min, Johannesburg bureau chief for the official Chinese official
news agency, Xinhua, told in an exclusive interview
that the agency cooperates with many African governments, including
that of South Africa. “We provide them with news and they provide us as
well,” said Cheng. “We also provide training in China – we invite
journalists from African countries to China and train them on
journalism, news gathering and writing.”

He said Xinhua was interested in Africa because the agency supplied a
global market. “We are writing not only for China or Africa but for the
whole world, and we publish in several languages – English, French,
Arabic, Russian, Chinese, and Portuguese,” he said. Across Africa,
Cheng said Xinhua has established more than 20 bureaus in countries
such as Zimbabwe, South Africa and Kenya.

In a detailed survey, BBC Monitoring International Services reported in
2005 that the Chinese governments or media associates such as Xinhua
signed agreements on cooperation or information exchange with state-run
media in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Mali and Djibouti.

A particular beneficiary has been Zimbabwe, whose
isolation from Western countries has forced it to adopt a “Look East”
policy. That country’s state-owned Sunday Mail newspaper reported in
2005 that a Chinese company was expected to provide transmitters worth
US$63 million to Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings. The cost was to be
partly covered by proceeds from a combined Chinese-Zimbabwean mining

In Lesotho, China was in 2005 reported to be helping with
a US$15 million project to upgrade television and radio. According to
the Radio Netherlands website, the Chinese gave equipment worth US$4.5
million and technical assistance in setting up the transmitters,
towers, generators and antennae. Training was also due to be given.

Xinhua reported in 2006 that Nigeria had bought satellite
technology from China, and that its technicians would be trained by the
Chinese on operating and maintaining the satellite. Designed, made and
launched into space in China, the satellite will be monitored by a
Chinese firm from a ground station to be built in Nigerian capital
Abuja and another in China. The Nigerian government sees its satellite
as pivotal in easing communications problems on the African continent.

Malawi received a quarter of a million US dollars to develop a
radio channel, while a Chinese firm, Gwang Ding Construction Company,
was to build a building fitted with audiovisual equipment for the
National Radio of Equatorial Guinea.

In 2006, Seychelles received a donation of at least US$50
000 worth of ICT equipment from the China’s National People’s Congress.
In 2005, the island state had received US$125 000 worth of multi-media
equipment from the Chinese government.

People’s Daily Online reported in 2006 that China had donated media equipment worth US$8 million to upgrade the Zambian media
sector, including computers, printers, cameras and vehicles.
Chinese-Zambian media relations began in 1973, with China supplying
shortwave and medium wave transmitters which it again replaced between
1985 and 2000 with FM transmitters, according to BBC Monitoring.

In Uganda, Xinhua reported in 2000 that it had donated
satellite station equipment to the national television station to help
it receive news and photos from Xinhua. Speaking to China’s People’s
Daily at the time, Ugandan Minister of Information, Bosaga Nsadhu,
said, “China is the one which understands us and provides assistance to
us continuously in the past years and the Ugandans are grateful.”

Kenya has signed several agreements in media cooperation with
China. The national television service has received donations of
equipment worth about US$150 000 from China’s Central Television.

Kenyan Minister for Tourism and Information, Raphael Tuju told Xinhua,
"I think we can do a lot in terms of cooperation at the level of
exchange of programs, at the level of exchange of training, the
exchange of technical assistance (in the field of mass media).”

The support has borne fruit. Xinhua reported in 2004 that China’s
ambassador to Kenya, Guo Chongli said Kenyan news media have increased
their coverage of China, especially on the occasion of the 40th
anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two
countries in 2003.

In one of the more unusual moves, state-run China Radio International
(CRI) now has its first foreign FM transmitter in Kenya’s capital
Nairobi, much like the Voice of America, BBC or Radio France
International have local services and rebroadcasting arrangements in
several African countries.

CRI broadcasts in more than 40 languages including native African
languages such as Kiswahili, Hausa, Arabic and European languages such
as English, French and Portuguese.

“By listening to our station, listeners will be able to learn the
latest developments in China’s economic construction, social
development and cultural life,” CRI director general Wang Gengnian said
in a statement during the station’s inaugural broadcast in early 2006.

The deputy director of China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and
Television, Tian Jin said, “The launch of the station signifies a major
step to consolidate and strengthen the great friendship between the
governments and the people of China and Kenya”.

The launch of CRI followed the establishment in 2004 in Nairobi of the headquarters of Xinhua’s African Bureau.

Some of the assistance has been more controversial. Reports in 2005
said China had sold Zimbabwe sophisticated phone-tapping, radio jamming
and internet-monitoring equipment, and was teaching Zimbabwe officials
how to use it.

The Zimbabwe government claimed it needed the equipment for the
country’s security, but both countries came under harsh criticism for
this collaboration. The help did not come free, though: as in other
cases, China obtained mining rights and other business opportunities in

What does it mean?

As with development assistance from Western and other countries, the
Chinese are anxious to present its assistance as selfless. According to
the Chinese government’s China Africa Policy, “China wishes to
encourage multi-tiered and multi-formed exchange and cooperation
between the media on both sides, so as to enhance mutual understanding
and enable objective and balanced media coverage of each other. It will
facilitate the communication and contacts between relevant government
departments for the purpose of sharing experiences on ways to handle
the relations with media both domestic and foreign, and guiding and
facilitating media exchange”.

Western analysts are more suspicious about China’s strategy in Africa.
Joshua Eisenman and Joshua Kurlantzick’s write in a 2006 article
‘China’s Africa Strategy’ in the book ‘Current History’, “China’s
growing industries demand new energy and raw material suppliers; its
exporters want markets.”

Arguably most important with regard to the recent generosity towards
African media, the writers say China’s “diplomats require support in
international organizations; and its propaganda still seeks support
from allies to advance Chinese interests, when necessary, to counter
the United States”.

They see China’s use of debt relief by turning loans into grants as
designed to enjoy double positive coverage in African media. The two
authors point out that, “In 2000, China wrote off 1.2 billion US
dollars in African debt; in 2003, it forgave another 750 million US
dollars. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has proclaimed ‘China’s
exemplary endeavor to ease African countries’ debt problem is indeed a
true expression of solidarity and commitment.’

“Debt relief has been an excellent public relations tool for Beijing
because it not only garners popular support but also allows for two
positive press events: the first to provide the loan, the second to
relieve the debt,” they write.

In her detailed 2005 survey for BBC Monitoring, analyst Tina Taylor
wrote, “With Beijing increasing its offers of technical knowledge and
assistance to African countries, more African governments are likely to
build partnerships with China, as well as seeking its help in
controlling media output.”

Assistance in techniques to control information has predictably drawn
particular attention. Eisenman and Kurlantzick write: “Chinese support
also has helped African leaders maintain controls on information.
Beijing aids African regimes with training on press and internet
monitoring. Tracing China’s efforts in this area is difficult, but
China’s official press … the People’s Daily proclaimed, ‘In the
information sector, China has trained dozens of media from 35 African
countries for the past two years’.”

China’s interest and involvement is strong and growing. Reuters in
January 2007 reported that Chinese Trade Ministry data shows that Trade
between China and Africa jumped 40 percent to 55.5 billion US dollars
in 2006, with the balance of trade 2.1 billion US dollars in Africa's

During Chinese President Hu’s Jintao latest tour to Africa, he promised
to double the aid that China is giving Africa over the next five years.
Reporting on Hu’s visit, the official China Daily newspaper says that
China is looking for a ‘win-win’ situation in its relationship with

It seems a safe bet that part of this involvement will involve support for the continent’s media.