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The role of identity and interest in the evolution and sustenance of Sino-Zambian relations: a constructivist perspective.

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Relying on China-Zambia relations as a case study, this dissertation uses the constructivist approach to international relations to look at the role that identity and interests play in shaping relations between nations. The study has established that the Chinese and Zambian governments have assumed and constructed relations that have kept the intimacy between the two countries largely undisturbed for fifty-three years. Factors such as third world solidarity and a concerted struggle against colonial and foreign domination were major points of unity between the two countries. After the Cold War, these ideological leanings have been largely replaced by a more economically inclined basis for relations but the two countries remain cordial and intimate allies. The constructivist/interpretivist paradigm of research was used to arrive at the findings made. The research approach used was qualitative, the research style used was case study and the research methods included interviews, focus group discussions and document analysis. In order to answer the research questions satisfactorily and to draw credible conclusions, purposive sampling was used to draw participants from various fractions of the Zambian society – ranging from the civil society, a congress of trade unions, political commentary, Zambian workers in a Chinese firm to ordinary Zambians. The research findings suggest that at state level, Zambia and China have constructed very influential intersecting identities and common interests that have fortified relations between the two countries. However, the findings also suggested that these identities and interests should not be conflated with identities and interests of non-state actors which are – at some points – at variance with national identities and interests. Primary data exudes an amount of apprehension among ordinary Zambians about the growing presence of Chinese nationals who are not coming at the behest of their government and hence whose interests differ from those stated by the Chinese government. The study recommends that more attention be paid to how dynamics between ordinary Chinese and Zambians are likely to influence relations at a state level because of Zambians’ concerns about “the Chinese.” This notwithstanding, the study argues that as things stand, national identities and interests, crafted at the highest echelons of both countries and the practical and developmental importance the two countries have for each other are the most overriding factor in insulating China-Zambia relations from renunciation or any substantial decline.


Doctor of Philosophy in Political Science. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2017.