Investing in African Students is China's Longterm Soft Power Play

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By The China Africa Project, Eric Olander, and Cobus van Staden. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Nigerian Dickson Agbaji is not famous. He's not a singer, a movie star or a popular online celebrity. So, according to the conventional definition of soft power, a guy like Dickson would not be considered very important.

But in the long game that China is playing in Africa, investing in people like Dickson today with an eye towards reaping dividends 10, 15 even 20 years in the future, Dickson is actually critical to Beijing's future success on the continent.

In so many ways Dickson, not Beyoncé or Post Malone, is the new face of soft power diplomacy in Africa.

Dickson is one of more than 60,000 African students currently enrolled in Chinese higher education institutions. He is pursuing a master's in international relations at the prestigious Beijing University where he's a scholar in the Yenching Academy.

In the 20th century, the United States had a number of programs that brought young African students over the U.S. to study. Back then, the U.S. regarded student engagement as a vital part of its broader diplomatic agenda whereby bringing young people, largely elites, to study in the U.S. would facilitate them building an American-centric view of the world and foster a network of U.S. relationships that would accompany them throughout their career when they return to their home countries.

The U.S., for the most part, doesn't do that anymore. It's cut back on scholarships and made it much more difficult for African students to get visas.

China, though, is going in the opposite direction by providing generous scholarships, visas and even holding educational fairs in Africa to recruit students to attend Chinese universities.

Those tens of thousands of African students currently studying in China will eventually come back to Africa bringing with them a Sino-centric view of the world and a network of relationships formed during their time in China that will serve them, and China, for decades to come.

Dickson joins Eric & Cobus in between classes at Beijing University to discuss why he chose to come to China and what he's getting out of his education there.

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Twitter: @eolander | @stadenesque | @DicksonAgbaji

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300 episodes