Soft Power and Tourism: A Study of Chinese Outbound Tourism to Africa

Yu-Wen Chen, Niall Duggan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


The increase of Sino-African interactions in trade, aid and investments has attracted Chinese tourists to Africa. The Beijing Action Plan of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) outlines China’s cultural diplomacy in Africa, delineating a number of areas of cultural cooperation: education; press, publishing and media; and tourism and people-to-people exchange programs in academia and think tanks among young people, women and athletes. Though scholars of International relations (IR) have detected that tourism is one way of manifesting soft power, they do not feel comfortable nor ready to place the promotion of tourism into standard IR discourse. This is in contrast to scholars of tourism studies who have recognized the political nature of China’s outbound tourism, particularly to less-developed areas such as Africa. In this paper, we have argued that the Chinese government uses outbound tourism to perform its perceived relationship with African countries; that is, Beijing aspires to be seen as a benign rising power willing to help weaker countries develop and establish harmonious ties. It is hard to separate the economic and cultural functions of outbound tourism, each of which reinforces the other, although not without limits. We find that not all African countries’ national tourism policies are capable of, or willing to prioritize, attracting Chinese tourists. Moreover, we find that South Africa is most active in working with public relations companies in China to promote South Africa as a tourist destination.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of China and International Relations
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)45-66
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - May 2016
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 519 Social and economic geography

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