China has embarked on various initiatives to win the hearts and minds of African citizens. Does this strategy contribute to China’s soft power in the region? To answer this question, we focus on two types of initiatives: cultural diplomacy and development finance. Using geolocation information on China’s aid projects and its Confucius Institutes, combined with a survey of more than 50,000 African citizens, we find that both types of soft power initiatives increase citizens’ awareness of Chinese influence in the region. Examining the effects of geographic proximity to project sites, we find that China’s development assistance does not increase Africans’ appreciation of China’s development model, but its cultural diplomacy does. Overall, we find that among individuals exposed to China’s development finance and cultural diplomacy, a greater awareness of China’s influence in the region does not translate into a positive assessment of this influence.

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