China’s nonstate actors and public diplomacy: the case of Pay-TV company StarTimes

  • Angela Sandra LEWIS

Student thesis: PhD Thesis


China’s economic rise in the 21st century has not been matched by necessary improvements in its international image. However, development assistance projects in Africa hold the potential to mould favourable perceptions of China among populations less influenced by Anglo-American media output. Over a thousand projects enacted through The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) protocols have used Chinese contractors to conduct development assistance initiatives, but case studies have been few. This research enriches theory at the intersection of public diplomacy and development assistance through a case study of nonstate actor StarTimes, China’s pay-TV company with around 30 million subscribers. This represents the first major study of this contractor, which is forecast to account for the biggest growth in television viewership in coming years in Africa. Through technical infrastructure it expands rural access, while content production is adding rapidly to indigenous programming, thus showcasing China’s digital divide problem-solving alternative to the Washington Consensus neoliberalism. As well as examining the StarTimes image, the research gives voice to African stakeholders whose views on China and its companies are less canvassed in Western public opinion polls.
The research used two forms of data collection: StarTimes news coverage over a five-year period and interviews with African TV subscribers and media professionals. Findings indicate that this ‘nonstate’ company adopts a hybrid actor identity. Projects manifest themselves through public-private-partnership (PPP) arrangements, while image building news discourses forefront private business public relations and minimize China-supporting public diplomacy. In the minds of African publics however, the broadcaster and China are fully aligned, rendering ‘state’ versus ‘nonstate’ distinctions unsatisfactory. The StarTimes territory of Chinese track-two diplomacy finds favour, however, when pan-African development assistance objectives are prioritised, such as projects to narrow the digital divide and increase African content. Public diplomacy could be improved further through a third track: Chinese nonstate actor engagement with local stakeholders who exercise agency but are willing to facilitate China’s image building activities.
Date of Award1 Jul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Nottingham
SupervisorFilippo Gilardi (Supervisor), David Kiwuwa (Supervisor), Xiaoling Zhang (Supervisor) & Hongyi Lai (Supervisor)


  • public
  • diplomacy
  • television
  • Africa
  • China
  • StarTimes

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