The Infraglob’s researchers, Jana Hönke and Yifan Yang, have published a chapter in the book Asia-Africa: Multifaceted Engagement in the Contemporary World, edited by Ute Fendler and Yongkyu Chang.

By utilizing Rumelili’s concept of ‘liminality,’ the chapter, titled Liminally Positioned In/Towards the South: Chinese Relations with Africa, provides insightful understandings of China (as a state) and Chinese non-state actors’ relationships with Africa.


The presence of China in Africa is often understood through the lens of an identity different from “the West” and their intent to counter and reshape Western-dominated global narratives. In this chapter we discuss and refine the understanding of the positioning of Chinese actors in relation to Africa (and the Global South more broadly). We propose that China’s (as a state) and Chinese non-state actors relationship with Africa is more accurately understood by acknowledging their ambiguous—rather than definitive—connection with the continent, by positioning itself as both within and outside the Global South. Deploying Rumelili’s concept of “liminality”, the chapter traces the betwixed and in between positioning of Chinese actors in Africa. Two discourses stand out: China as a developing country within the Global South, adhering to sovereignty and opposing acts of postcolonial hegemony and intervention; and China as a unique global power and, as such, a development partner of the Global South. There remains a persistent effort in reconciling China’s dual identity as external great power and developing country like its African partners, which we show points to the coexistence of divergent, historically rooted identities, fluctuating between developmentalism, nationalism, and moral cosmopolitanism. We show that this liminal positioning also extends to Chinese non-state actors. The chapter begins with a review of China-Africa relations and the growing prominence of South-South relations since the 2000s. It then introduces the concept of liminality to next turn to dissect Chinese diplomatic narratives toward Africa, followed by an analysis of corporate discourses, both demonstrating such liminal positioning. The conclusion summarizes Chinese state and non-state actors’ liminal positionings and highlights the contributions of a liminality perspective for understanding self-other dynamics in Africa’s global relations in an increasingly polycentric world.