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PARPCC#12 – The establishment of Radio Chine Internationale in the Sahel : for who, why and how ?

PARPCC#12 – The establishment of Radio Chine Internationale in the Sahel : for who, why and how ?

Panda, Rice Alcohol and PCC is a column of Camille Brugier, aimed at introducing scientific articles to a wider audience. His publications can be found on his thread Twitter.

While since January 2022 French troops are gradually withdrawing from the Sahel, many voices deplore the growing influence of China in Africa, particularly via its media (Xinhua and Radio China International especially). From approximately 250 media content, Selma Mihoubi looks at how RCI processes news in five African countries (Senegal, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Mali) to try to understand who, and what China wants to talk about in the Sahel.

First information, Chinese media presence is not new on the African continent. In the years 1950, Radio Beijing was already targeting Chinese communities in East and Southern Africa, in a Cold War context marked by the anti-imperialist and third worldist accents of Mao ZeDong. Since, China above all seeks to impose a narrative on local populations : according to Mihoubi, “Beijing has decided to develop its own international media systems, in order to offer its vision of international news, as well as Sino-African partnerships ». The 12th plan quinquennal (2011-2015) consecrates Chinese media diplomacy, which must “strengthen international competitiveness and the power of influence of Chinese culture, and improve thesoft power from the country ".  Thereby, Chinese radios broadcast mainly from the most populated cities, literate and economically dynamic populations of the Sahel – Dakar, Saint Louis, etc.

And what is being said on RCI ?

First, Chinese radio legitimizes the governments in place – and avoids national controversies (ex: contested elections). No wonder China is keeping such a low profile in the face of the series of coups in recent months. If on the one hand these blows can weaken the Western powers, they can also harm the smooth running of Chinese economic activities, which remains a power still largely incomplete militarily on the African continent. Beijing spares the goat and the cabbage, deciding to abstain on the extension of sanctions against the juntas, while the list of “countries at risk” grows from month to month.

Ensuite, RCI “negatively” covers anything that even remotely resembles a separatist protest in African countries. She says little about the areas where Chinese companies operate (normal, it exploits natural resources), but many on the other hand areas of tension and demands (the Niger-Mali border, around Lake Chad), which echoes Chinese stress over the integrity of its claimed territory, du Xinjiang au Tibet, passing through Taiwan.

Thirdly, China says a lot of good things about itself! RCI involves leaders positively on China's action in Africa. Radio becomes a real tool of public diplomacy : in particular, we regularly defend the position of “one China” (aka the conflict with Taiwan). Selma Mihoubi even explains that hot issues such as the China Sea are mentioned much more on RCI than the news from many “secondary” cities in the countries in which it broadcasts.!

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And what about the other powers present on the African continent? ? We are clearly in a rivalry relationship:  Chinese side, we denounce neocolonialism; French side, human rights violations, the increase in the debt of African countries due to their dependence on China, etc.

With RCI, China fulfills various objectives : consolidate so-called “bilateral” relations (unsuitable term, Africa being a continent, and not a country) ; assert its position on the international scene…and undermine the influence of its rivals.

Reference: Mihoubi, Selma (2019), “The Implementation Strategy of Radio Chine Internationale (RCI) in Sahelian Africa », NOROIS, Vol. 252, pp. 89-102.

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