The Western Perspective of China in Africa: Another Heart of Darkness in US Newspaper Reporting(Long Read)

1. Introduction

The ‘dark continent’ is a metaphor used by Western perspectives to view Africans as a people who need to be civilized and modernized. Modern Western discourse of Africa is affected by the colonization era, and more recently, by the post-colonial economic development of the continent. (Jarosz, 1992). It was Golan (2008) that found between 2002 and 2004, US television networks ignored the majority of African news stories. Despite ethnic cleansing, elections, AIDs epidemics and many civil wars, the continent was not treated as newsworthy. Yang & Liu (2012) found that in the US media from 1996-2006, the main headlines in regard to China were one of emphasising the ‘China threat’ frame. Inside this frame, most headlines ran with the ideological, military and economic expansion of China. While Africa has remained in the shadows of the Western media, China has become important in the eyes of the Western Media. However, the media portrayal of China is still the ‘othered’ China. This othering, as Pickering (2001) describes, is the denial of history and the denial of identity. While the media aims to be objective in their reporting, even the concept of objectivity is different across nations and subjective reporting is the result (Donsbach & Klett, 1993). Both China and Africa have been imagined as being something other than they actually are. This has manifested itself in pop culture, news and literature of the West. What makes China more relevant in the lens of the news is the fact that it has grown exponentially since 1979 to become a major player in the world economy (Yang & Liu, 2012).

While most researchers have looked at the relationship between China and the Western media (Lee, 2004, Yang & Liu, 2012), nobody has researched how the Chinese presence in Africa has manifested itself in the Western media, and in what way.

In this research paper, I investigated from current literature how: 1) China is viewed by the Western Media 2) How Africa is viewed by the Western Media. Once this was understood, we conducted a quantitative and qualitative content analysis and discovered 3) What were the trends in US media news reporting on China in Africa from 2006-2016 and 4) What was the overall tone in how US newspapers view the relationship between China and Africa. We used Zimbabwe as an example, because an analysis for all African news coverage would be too general.

2. Literature Review

China has surpassed both the European Union and United States to become Africa’s largest trading partner. As well as this, foreign direct investment and developmental aid has been increasing steadily from China (Van, 2009). For example, in 2011, Chinese outward direct investment in Africa was $26 billion, compared to the US $22 billion and a lot of what China expects in return includes minerals and oil rights (Chen, Dollar & Tang, 2016). This is relevant because up until the early 2000s, China and Africa were both seen as not being salient in media coverage. China’s economic success and its subsequent investment in Africa makes the West uneasy, as seen by Mawdsley’s (2008) research into the representation of China in Africa in British newspapers, which was aptly named the dichotomy of British and Chinese interests as ‘Fu Manchu versus Dr Livingstone in the dark continent’. In other words, the West is very much suspicious of Chinese involvement in their former colony nations.

2.1 Ideology and Stereotyping in News Reporting

Before discussing China and Africa through the lens of the Western Media, it is important to discuss what creates, as Lippmann said, the images in our heads. A somewhat quite obvious statement to make is Entman’s (1993) cliché that the media cannot tell us what to think, but rather how to think. A more updated version of this is from Lutz (2007, p. 3) ,who states that “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”. In other words, the facts do not matter, as long as you can spin them to suit the needs of an audience or institution. Also at play is the Rashomon Effect which in the context of the media, means that even though the facts are the same, news agencies construct their own reality through frames to fit their own ideological needs and their audience’s needs (Muschert, 2007). Thus, the frames from the West are for and by a Western perspective. The influence of political and ideological influences that can lead to a distortion of reality in news reporting is referred to as a ‘content bias’ (Entman, 2007) and this is the norm, not the exception. However, this content bias would still have to complement the audience’s emotions, preconceptions, prejudices and pre-existing beliefs (Lutz, 2007), which can be argued to be derived from stereotypes.

Entman (1994) found that due to ‘conventional journalistic norms’ and their interaction with ‘political’ and ‘social reality’, African-Americans appear in more negative roles than whites in news frames, and entrench stereotypical attitudes. Abraham & Appiah’s (2006) research also found that white participants had pre-existing ‘black cultural stereotypes’ and used them as a way of understanding their reality when the context was unclear in images. In language too, Western media uses ‘fanatic’, ‘terrorist’ and ‘extremist’ when describing Muslims. In other words, the semantics behind the words are placed there either intentionally or unintentionally and display stereotypes through language; language which mirrors the human mental process (Van Dijk, 1995, Chomsky, 2006).

Even if images have been intentionally written to avoid stereotypes, they are still subject to the audience’s judgement. Thus, to understand China and Africa through the US media, it must be understood that all news written about China in Africa will be from a Western-centric point-of-view. This will contain a bias and exhibit stereotypes which help readers navigate the information in line with their own preconceived notions of reality through the comfort of stereotypes (Lippmann, 1922 b).

2.2 China through the lens of Western Media

There has been a fear of China that can be traced back in far into Western history. Although it can be linked to Said’s work on Orientalism, the more apt framework to view the relationship of China and the West is through is the ‘Yellow Peril’. Shim (1998) defined Yellow Peril as being a reaction from the ‘penny-press journalism’ which warned of ‘Chinese hordes’ which were going to invade and ‘take over white America’ and ‘destroy white civilization’. One of the best descriptions of Yellow Peril as a concept was by H. Knackfuss. His painting ‘Yellow Peril’ (or “Völker Europas, wahrt eure heiligsten Güter”, or in English “Peoples of Europe, guard your dearest goods.”) was commissioned by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1895. Its significance lies in the imagery that shows a Christian Europe with an angel, in direct opposition to a dark cloud with a Buddha as the East rises to conquer them (Lyman, 2000).

Later, China’s image changed and became shrouded in red. The fear of the Yellow Peril manifested itself as ‘Communism’ and as such China became the ‘Red Threat’, adding a new dimension to the ‘China threat’ (Lyman, 2000). This China Threat in the past could be embodied by Fu Manchu who is described by Rohmer (2014) as follows:

“Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government.”

Rohmer, 2014, page 27

This type of fear of Communism and the subsequent media coverage painted China as irrational (Lyman, 2000).

yellow peril
Fig. 1 The Yellow Peril by H. Knackfuss (Knackfuß, 2008, April 15)

After China’s economic rise, the self-image that China made for itself is an image of being a ‘peace-loving nation’ that is an ‘international co-operator and autonomous actor’. However, many countries view China as being a ‘militant’, ‘obstructive force’ and an ‘authoritarian state’ (Zhang, 2010). This conflict of self-image versus the image placed upon China was seen in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Asian Wall Street Journal in 2008 discussed this. It has stated that while foreign critics focused on issues such as Tibet and human rights violations, many in China felt their strides in their economy and social progress was largely ignored (Jason, 2008, Apr 21).

The pluralistic manner that China is seen through, as described by Lee (2002), often shows one aspect of many of China, whilst still conforming to a certain unified frame for all the work inside of. Despite creating the New Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Silk Road Economic Belt and it’s 475 Confucius Institutes in 120 countries, China has still yet to change its image away from being mostly negative in the foreign media (Shambaugh, 2015).

It was Lippmann (1922 a, p. 7) that said, “The only feeling that anyone can have about an event he does not experience is the feeling aroused by his mental image of that event.” With this in mind, the media plays an important role in how we perceive the reality of China. This perception has shifted drastically in the last 100 years and today, as stated by Yang & Liu (2012), the Yellow Peril has shapeshifted into many different forms. From being an Image of the world conquering Fu Manchu, a KMT ally of the Allies, a red Communist country and finally, an economic dragon that could engulf the West, the portrayal of China in Western media is pluralistic at best (Lee, 2002).

2.3 Africa’s Lack of Representation

Africa’s representation in history has been shrouded by the lens of being the ‘Dark Continent’. Countless works have portrayed Africa in a negative light. This has been transmitted to mainstream society. Henry Morton Stanley in the 19th century travelled across Africa, and from his travels and journalist work, had defined Africans in his book “Through the Dark Continent” as being a ‘savages’ that only ‘respects force’, ‘power’, ‘boldness’ and ‘decisiveness’ (Stanley, 1889, p. 216)

dark c onteintnet
Fig 2.  Moshesh, Chief of the Basutos, (Jones, 1881, p 487)

Shown above, figure 2, illustrates how the West views Africa. It has enough details to be exotic, yet savage, while at the same blurring the face with darkness to make sure the humanity behind the person is ignored. Joseph Conrad’s portrayal of Africa in the classic ‘Heart of Darkness’ has been researched for its imagology, which created an image of Africa being inhabited by dehumanized savages. They live in a timeless place that is irrational, dark and full of cannibals without languages or morals (Firchow, 2015).

Hawk (1992) in her book ‘Africa’s Media Image’, states that even the language used by the West to describe Africa, in terms of the vocabulary and metaphors (semantics), has not changed significantly, particularly in recent times. As mentioned previously, Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” designated Africa as a dark place of savagery. This type of imagery is in no small part thanks to the colonization and the dichotomy of the West perceiving itself as dominate over the subservient African (Jarosz, 1992).

Odine (2013) made a very perceptive point that colonialism created hurdles for African countries that prevented them from nation building. She explains this by the fact that colonial powers ‘partitioned Africa’ without taking the ‘culture or socio-economic’ development of the areas into account. This context is rarely added to media reports and instead, the image of the ‘Dark Continent’ is what absorbs the news frames.

International news coverage of Africa has long been criticised for its ‘episodic, simplistic and relentlessly negative content’ (Gallagher, 2015). The negative stereotypes created by this coverage are dangerous and are written and produced by outsiders. According to Asante (2013), representation of Africa in past years fall into frames which make Africa ‘misrepresented and underrepresented’. Stereotypes and distortion shape the understanding of Africa in the global media. Asante (2013) also states that Africa is usually viewed as a country instead of a continent. Asante (2013), states as well that social problems happening in Africa which also exist in other Western countries are magnified, and the stereotypical concept toward African people’s skin tone is brought up in the representation often.

Although negative representation and misunderstandings toward Africa can be seen everywhere in the media, there is a lack of a sceptical tone in news reports challenging these ideas. Even reports about Africa that are written in a “positive” angle still rely on stereotypes and misunderstanding. (Asante, 2013). All in all, the image of Africa in our heads is one that was taken from Africa without the African voice or perspective.

2.4 China in Africa and World Systems Theory

The relationship between China and the African continent can be explained through the narrative of the ‘World Systems Theory’. The world, under this perspective can be broken down into three distinct groups, the core, semi-peripheral and peripheral countries. Core countries, such as America, Japan and Israel are developed, while peripheral countries are the least developed, in the sense that they still focus on low-skill labour-intensive industry (Wallerstein, 2011).

As China has grown in recent decades with 8-12% growth, so too has its energy consumption. China now looks to its ‘peripheral’ for its energy needs, namely Africa. This is due to China’s status of being an ascending world power (Mol, 2011) with increasing levels of influence in terms of trade, finance and aid, but surprisingly not in terms of culture.

Although China’s presence in Africa might be viewed as sudden and somewhat surprising, through the lens of history, it is not shocking considering China’s long history with Africa. In terms of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Zhou Enlai’s 1963-64 African tour helped pave the way for future relations and was given considerable media attention. This post-colonial era is significant because it was the building blocks for China’s eventual investment and presence in the region (Large, 2008). Scalapino (1964) had reported on Zhou’s visit at the time as being one with clear motives, those being: 1) To promote Chinese leftism in Africa 2) To counter Soviet influence in the region from deterring relations with China 3) To spread and image of China as a ‘major power’ and 4) To gain information on forming a ‘policy towards Africa’. If we replace ‘Soviet’ with ‘American’ this insight could be relevant today as it was in 1964.

In the 2006 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, China and many African nations passed agreements. China’s President Hu Jintao delivered a speech mentioning 8 points which these agreements were in regard to, namely to expand the scale of aid in Africa, including discharging African countries from their debts and setting up several offshore trading cooperation areas, promoting economic development within the continent (Yen, 2006).  China and Africa’s economic ties have also strengthened throughout the years.

Since 1992, South Africa’s trade deficit with China has risen from $24m to over $400m and even caused many boycott campaigns against Chinese products in the region. Under the New Asian–African Strategic Partnership (NAASP), cooperation between the two continents has also been promoted and the influence still last until today. According to the Financial Times, China has been Africa’s main export market and also its largest source of imports. From year 1995 to 2015, China accounts for about 20 percent of imports in Sub-Saharan Africa and about 15 percent of its exports. This number continues to rise (Romei, 2015, December 3). As Africa’s largest trading partner, China has many interests in Africa, and we have taken Zimbabwe as our focus for this research project.

2.5 Sino-Zimbabwean Relations

The relationship between China and Zimbabwe was dominated by the loans during the 1980s to 2000. However, since establishing the FOCAC (Forum on China-Africa Cooperation) and Zimbabwe’s “Look East” policy China supplied Zimbabwe with expertise, technical assistance, and agricultural equipment and the Mugabe government has made a multitude of diplomatic trips to China from 2006 to today (Eisenman, 2005, Zhang, 2014). Zhang (2014) mentioned in his research that Sino-Zimbabwean relations serves as a special model for viewing Sino-African relations, analysing from six different aspects including history, politics, diplomatic, economy, society and cultural exchanges.

Fig. 3 Xi and Mugabe meeting 2015; Mugabe hoped to secure aid (Dawber, 2015, December 01).

In line with Zhang’s (2014) findings, we decided to use Zimbabwe as our focus of research to create a small window into Africa, which may yield further avenues of research both inside Zimbabwe and further afield to other African countries in terms of their media portrayal in conjunction with China in the eyes of the US media.

3. Research Questions

  1. What are the trends in US news reporting on China in Zimbabwe from 2006-2016? 
  2. What was the tone that the US media used when discussing issues pertaining to China in Zimbabwe? 

To answer these questions, the ProQuest newspaper platform was used to search the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal newspaper articles published from 2006-2016 with key search words of “China” and “Zimbabwe.

4.1 Newspaper Coverage

In the period of 2006-2016, 892 articles were published featuring the keywords of China and Zimbabwe. The Wall Street journal published the most with 314 articles (35.2%), second was the Washington Post with 291 articles (32.6%) and lastly, the New York Times with 287 articles (32.2%). This is expressed in figures 4-5 below.

Fig. 4 Breakdown of Coverage by New York Times, Wall Street Journal and The Washington
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Fig. 5 Breakdown of the figures for each year

Surprisingly, the news coverage from all three newspapers was similar, although the Wall Street Journal published slightly more, but not a significant amount more. The data also showed that 67% of all articles in the ten-year period were published between 2006-2009. This immediately presented a clear trend in the data and this is expressed below in figure 6.

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Fig. 6 Breakdown of the coverage via graph (x-axis number of articles, y-axis years)

All three newspapers were similar in their coverage of news in Zimbabwe that was related to China. News coverage rose slowly in 2006-207 and spiked and fell from 2008-2009. We isolated this period from 2006-2009 for further analysis in terms of their ‘subjects’. Subjects are provided by the ProQuest database to aid in finding topic related content. From this we, collected all subjects from 2006-2016 and categorized them into 6 categories: Politics, Human Rights, Foreign Relations, Olympics, Terrorism and Violence and Others, although Other was omitted.

4.2 Subject breakdown of articles

In the 892 collected articles, over 1,175 subjects were found. This indicates that each article had an average of 1.3 subjects in its content, meaning that some articles had at least 2 subjects and may have been cross-categorical. 76% of all subjects in the news coverage took place in 67% of the total articles from 2006-2009. This clearly shows that there was a heavier presence of news reporting both in quantity and content during the period of 2006-2009 when 890 of the 1,175 total subjects took place.

From our analysis, the most prevalent category was politics. From 2006-2009, 44% of all subjects were in the category of Politics. Subjects such as. ‘Presidential Election’ garnered the most usage, along with ‘Presidents’, ‘Prime Minister’, ‘Local Elections’, ‘Political Campaigns’, ‘Election Results’ and simply ‘Elections’. There were also many other subjects that dealt with ‘Protests’, ‘Authoritarianism’ and the economic situation of the Zimbabwe. Foreign relations accounted for 24% of all subjects and contained subjects such as ‘International relations’, ‘Foreign Policy’, ‘Meetings’, ‘Sanctions’ and ‘International trade’, Human rights contained fewer subjects, but this was because they were more concentrated. Subjects such as ‘Human rights’, ‘Democracy’, ’Violence’, ’Criminal investigations’, ‘Arrests’ and ‘War Crimes’ were most prevalent. Terrorism and Violence contained subjects such as ‘Terrorism’, ‘Assassinations’, The Olympic category was the smallest and contained subjects such as ‘Olympic Games’, ‘Athletes’ and ‘Swimming’ and ‘Armed Forces’. Below in figures 7 and 8 this has been expressed for both periods, from 2006-2016 and 2006-2009.

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Fig. 7 Chart of the distribution of Categories from 2006-2016 (1,175 subjects)
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Fig. 8 Chart of the distribution of Categories from 2006-2009 (890 subjects)

Politics was obviously the most important category to analyse. However, it is important to understand why politics was so prevalent. To understand this, it first has to be stated that the highest frequency found for a single subject was ‘Presidential Elections’. From our content analysis, it was found that the 2008 Zimbabwean elections had been the major influence on newspaper reporting, as the categories of politics, human rights, foreign relation and terrorism and violence are all linked somewhat to the 2008 elections. Thus, politics was essentially the most covered issue.

4.3 Sample Analysis

A sample size of 10% of the total newspaper stories from 2006-2009 (600) was chosen. Of this sample size, 26 belonged to the category of politics, 13 were in foreign relations, 10 were in human rights, 6 were in terrorism and violence and 5 were in the Olympics. The quantitative content analysis, answering our first research question, found overall that the 2008 Zimbabwean elections had a major influence on the coverage of Chinese influence in Zimbabwe. Issues of human rights violations, international relations straining, and electoral fraud were all a result of the election, but these in turns were affected by both the US media’s framing of China as enabling Zimbabwe and the US call for intervention and a focus on human rights issues

4.4 Conceptual Framework

Below in figure 9 was the outcome of the qualitative analysis. It is a framework that explains how the 2008 election in Zimbabwe impacted and influenced all other news reporting and how the US media viewed it through the lens of Chinese enablement of Mugabe and the US condemnation of Chinese influence in Zimbabwe.

Capture 45
Fig 9 Conceptual mapping of categories

The outcome of this research into how the US sees China in Zimbabwe had many similarities to Lee’s (2002) paper and this answered our first research question, in that the issue of containment, engagement and globalization were relevant in the US media’s discourse on China as they were on China’s influence in Africa. Many of the same trends in Lee’s research cropped up in ours.

It is obvious that the US media is very critical of China in Zimbabwe, especially on issues such as Mugabe’s government violation human rights and democracy. The US media is in some senses, putting forth that the ideals of the Washington Consensus is the best option for Zimbabwe. The media view China as largely ignoring problems out of its policy of non-interference, in other words, the Beijing Consensus of non-interference in another countries affairs (Huang, 2010).

The images put in the audience’s head from these reports would certainly create a negative relationship between China and Zimbabwe. However, as shown in figure 9, the elections were the key to all other news stories and influenced the coverage of news in Zimbabwe with China from 2006-2009. This was seen in a lens of anti-Chinese sentiment from the media who viewed China as enabling or not interfering in human rights violations, election fraud, arms and ammunitions deals. They also enabled Zimbabwe on an international level (international affairs) and found their own Olympic coverage tainted with their relationship to Mugabe’s government and many others too. Thus the 2008 elections were the central to understanding the US media’s frame of China in Zimbabwe.


5.1 2008 Zimbabwean Elections

The 2008 Zimbabwean Elections were the most significant political event in Zimbabwean history ever since the end of British Colonialism in 1980. The election was heavily contested between Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF (Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front), who have ruled since 1980, and Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) party (Moyo, 2009) The lead up to, the process of and the consequence of the election was a litany of human rights violations and ultimately election fraud on the part of Robert Mugabe’s party.

“Things on the ground,” e-mailed a friend from a groaning Zimbabwe, “are absolutely shocking — systematic violence, abductions, brutal murders. Hundreds of activists hospitalized, indeed starting to go possibly into the thousands.” The military, he says, is “going village by village with lists of MDC activists, identifying them and then either abducting them”

Gerson, M (2008, May 28)   The Despots’ Democracy, The Washington Post; Washington, D.C. [Washington, D.C]  A.13.

It was assumed that the 2008 Beijing Olympics would create a spike in news reporting, but this was secondary to all issues relating to the politics, violence and the subsequent fallout of foreign relations caused by the 2008 Zimbabwean Election, this is why in figure 9, the elections were given the central focus as the influence for all other news. The elections were the reason for the spike seen in figure 6 from 2006-2009. The election was a catalyst that drove the US media into a frenzy of reporting. In relation to Chinese influence in Zimbabwe, the news reported a very clear tone, condemnation of China’s passiveness in regard to Mugabe’s human rights violations and derailment of democracy. The Beijing Consensus was attacked.

5.2 Chinese Enablement and Non-Interference & Disapproval from US Newspapers (Beijing Consensus Vs. Washington Consensus)

The US media views China as an enabler of Mugabe’s actions. The media’s view is that China continuously fails to condemn any actions conducted by the Mugabe government. China, in other words, is an enabler for Mugabe, who in turn rewards China with UN support and business opportunities. This is also presents another issue, where once in the past, the US media covered the issue of “Who lost China?”, our newspaper analysis read more like “Who lost Africa?”.

“Despite their historical ties to Africa, Europeans have found it difficult to compete with China which finances giant infrastructure projects and offers investment without conditions related to human rights or government transparency.”

Castle, S (2007, Dec 09) Mugabe’s Presence Hijacks European-African Meeting, New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]0

The US media also view Mugabe as a dictator. They see China trading funds and aids for favours and support in the UN and for the possibility to expand its influence on Africa, while batting its eyes to internal issues.  James Kirchick of the Wall Street Journal in August 2008, referred to Mugabe as “[T]he Chinese-funded, Marxist-Leninist guerrilla leader” and stated that when “Great Britain and the U.S. tried to push relatively tame sanctions through the U.N. Security Council” that the “the measure was vetoed by Russia and China”. Robert Kagan of the Washington Post in April 2006, stated that China is in a struggle with the UN to capture votes “to strengthen their hand against Taiwan and Japan” and they do this by courting leaders such as “Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe” and refer to him as “another autocrat loathed by the liberal West”. The relationship between China and Zimbabwe is ultimately seen as a toxic one. They benefit one another in a way to garners strong protest from the West, especially Newspapers.

What is at the heart of condemnation of China from the US is media can be summarised by Craig Timberg from the Washington Post in June 2008, when he stated that China makes “business deals without any expectation that governments will improve democracy, respect human rights or fight corruption”. The is in sharp contrast to most Western countries that are reluctant to fund infrastructural funds or even aid to countries that do not actively adopt a model of democracy. This outlines the basic argument that there is a class between what Huang (2010) calls the Washington and Beijing Consensus.

China, in other words, is gaining major influence in Zimbabwe and Africa without the interest of promoting human rights issues or democracy, which is in dire contrast to the US’s mission and consensus.

However, the last word on the issue goes to Celia Dugger & Michael Wines from the New York Times in April 2008 who stated that the West is suspicious of giving Mugabe’s government money until he “stops the human rights abuses that have been a fixture of his 29 years in power.” they also state that China has kept a “close relationship with Zimbabwe as it has extended its financial ties”. China in the eyes of the US media is the enabler to Mugabe’s legitimacy to both have funding to crack down on any internal issues, and have legitimacy on an external level in international affairs too.

5.3 Zimbabwe and The Unfavoured

We also found a phenomenon that the U.S. media tended to stereotype Zimbabwe as a kind of country that’s unfavoured in the western world. Zimbabwe was often brought up with countries like Burma, Cuba, North Korea and Sudan when news report discussed China’s strategic alliances with ‘dictatorships’, ‘totalitarian governments’ and ‘human rights abusers’. This could be seen in the news articles of every category.

“China had the dubious distinction of being lumped in one section of the report alongside a number of governments that are in disfavor with the United States. That group included North Korea, Myanmar, Iran, Zimbabwe and Cuba, all herded together under a heading that read, in part, ”

U.S. Releases Rights Report, With an Acknowledgment, 07 Mar 2007

5.4 Human Rights Violations

A 2008 Human Rights Watch report (2015, April 29) stated that Mugabe led a systematic and methodical attack on his political opponents after the elections. The report claims that thousands had been killed, tortured and kidnapped. Michael Gearson from the Washington Post in May 2008 stated that the military were “going village by village with lists of MDC activists, identifying them and then either abducting them or beating them to a pulp, leaving them for dead.”

As stated already, China provides aid and funding without the expectation of the said government fighting human rights violations, corruption or instituting better democracy. Gearson also stated that China, along with others, is making the United Nations “impotent” because they are undermining the UN’s global human rights movement. Ellen Knickmeyer from the Washington Post in July 2008, stated that China’s stance on interfering on issues of human rights was that “Zimbabwe’s problems should be left to its people to solve.” The irony of this statement is that the people are not allowed to solve anything because their democracy has been overridden by Mugabe.

5.5 Election Fraud

Mugabe’s opponent, Tsvangirai of the MDC, eventually withdrew from the 2008 election due to the ensuing violence. As a result, Mugabe claimed victory and even if he had not done so, Paul Wolfowitz from the Wall Street Journal in June 2008 stated that Mugabe would have rigged the ballot count anyway. Celia Dugger, David Barboza and Alan Cowell from the New York Times in April 2008 stated that Tsvangirai was the clear winner of the election.

They also discussed how human rights researchers and doctors that treated victims of ‘political crackdowns’ had said they were in fear of the government, because despite being short on bullets, Mugabe’s government had purchased arms from China after the election results, which would only make the situation dramatically worse. Not only is China seen as an enabling factor in the relationship between Mugabe and internal and external power, China, in the eyes of the US media is willing to provide weapons to a government which has forced it opposition out of the running of an election and conducted election fraud, while at the same time causing human rights violation against opposition supporters.

5.6 Arms and Ammunition

In the aftermath of the Zimbabwean elections, a Chinese shipment of weapons and ammunitions bound for the landlocked Zimbabwe through South Africa was denied docking and land-transport by the South African High Court. Celia Dugger and David Barboza’s April 2008 report on “China May Give Up Attempt to Send Ams to Zimbabwe” had set a tone that viewed China as being almost narcissistic in its attitudes.

For China, the shipment was a run of the mill transaction and the shipment was already ordered before the elections were set to take place, with China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson at the time, Jiang Yu, stating the issue should not be politicised. Neil MacFaquhar from the New York Times in July 2008 reported that the US wanted sanctions to be held against Zimbabwe, such as international arms embargoes and “punitive measure against 14 people the United states deemed most responsible for undermining Zimbabwe’s election through violence”.

However, these sanctions were vetoed by China and Russia who generally support the idea that “an African problem that ought to be dealt with locally, could still veto it.” For China, in the eyes of the US media, the arms deal was a business transaction and whatever Mugabe does with them is no concern of theirs.

5.7 Olympics Coverage

The 2008 Olympics held by China was covered widely in the news. However, while the event itself had little to do with political matters, a huge number of articles still links China’s political power and intervention in the South Africa with the Olympic games. Articles mentioning both the Olympics and China’s support in Zimbabwe appear to have taken a huge part of Olympics’ coverage. Through this observation, we saw the U.S. media reporting the political intervention under the framework of “international reputation” and somehow laying pressure on China’s political moves with the Beijing Olympics.

“For China, long an ally of Mr. Mugabe’s, the opening of a new front of controversy is equally thorny. Despite its sensitivity to criticism as it prepares to hold the Olympic Games this summer, it is wooing African nations in hopes of building its diplomatic clout and securing access to minerals and other resources.”

Dugger, Celia W (2008, Apr 19) Zimbabwe Arms Shipped by China Spark an Uproar, New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]

5.8 Foreign Relations

The majority of news articles in terms of foreign relations showed a clear news angle, namely, U.N. sanctions against Mugabe’s government could not be achieved by the U.S and allies because China and its allies vetoed any attempt. This is connected to the enablement of Zimbabwe by China.

“An American-led effort to impose sanctions against Zimbabwe failed in the Security Council on Friday, with Russia and China exercising a rare double veto to quash a resolution that they said represented excessive interference in the country’s domestic matters.”

2 Vetoes Quash U.N. Sanctions On Zimbabwe: [Foreign Desk] MacFarquhar, Neil. New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]12 July 2008: A.1.

In the report written by Bass.G in 2006, published in the Washington Post, Mugabe was said to be relying “on China to break his international isolation, in what he calls his “Look East” policy”. It brought about the fact that Mugabe arrived in Beijing for six days of cozy talks, including a meeting with Hu, who referred to him as “an old friend.” In this case, Mugabe was depicted as intentionally seeking for Chinese official support for his own interest in the region, the relationship between China and Zimbabwe was also reasserted.

5.9 Summary

In summary, research question 2 has been answered. China in Zimbabwe is viewed in a negative way as enablers and their non-interference is looked down upon by the US media. All other issues pertaining to coverage of China and Zimbabwe came from the central news coverage of the election which branched into many different areas as seen in figure 9.


The results from this research paper shows that newspaper reporting on China in Zimbabwe is selective in its coverage. Issues considered most salient that had the highest frequencies were all connected to the 2008 Zimbabwean Elections and the subsequent linkage that China had in terms of its policies of non-interference was that it was an inadvertent enabler of Mugabe’s government. Issues pertaining to human rights, elections and international relations were given a short window of opportunity to be reported on by the 3 newspapers, but ironically, they did not cover much news after 2009 on Zimbabwe despite being adamant about bringing Mugabe’s government in line.

This research paper’s results falls in line with Lee (2002) in that the US media in the past associated freer markets with the growth of capitalism and the development of human rights. While in the past the US has used this this tactic through international bodies, China does not. This is the main sticking point of China in Zimbabwe. China wants all the benefits, and none of the responsibilities to whom its funding and interests lie with. Zimbabwe’s ‘Looking East’ policy is unnerving to pundits in the West who see socialism with Chinese characteristics becoming common in Africa through deals. What makes the US far more fearful is not China trading products and giving aid and funding, but rather China giving ideology and enablement of small countries that are run by what they called ‘dictators’. The findings boil down to a confrontation between the Washington Consensus and the Beijing Consensus (Huang, 2010).

The US media has failed in many respects to report the growing discontent among Zimbabweans who feel China is too influential in their country. Since the 2000s when Chinese products were undercutting local Zimbabwean goods, Zimbabweans have termed Chinese products as being ‘Zhing-Zhong’ (輕裝), a derogatory term meaning low-quality and it also has some xenophobic connotation (Rotberg, 2009). Instead, the US media focuses on a narrative of Mugabe and China and not much else. It was interesting to see that the US media did not report this growing discontent. Instead the news looked at the bigger picture of international affairs and politics, than the people who were behind the politics and the people the international affairs mattered for. Zimbabwe is seen as Mugabe, not as a country with people, institutions and a history, much like China was in the past with Mao.

Overall, the issues covered by US newspaper coverage was placed heavily on the elections in 2008 and China’s view from the US was one of enablement, irresponsibility and a problem that needs to be contained. Future studies should incorporate more African nations in a meta-analysis of newspaper coverage and perhaps take the work of Huang (2010) into a more central role in discussing China in Africa through the lens of the media by means of the Washington and Beijing Consensuses and perhaps also more thoroughly through Wallerstein’s (2011) World Systems Theory.

Our study is like crossing the river by feeling the stepping stones, but there are still many stepping stones to go before we can reach the other side of this issue, but this is still a good start.


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