How does Chinese central media represent Africa through its environmental news? This article argues that the way in which Chinese central media organisations have reported environmental issues across the African continent has altered from a reactive “charm defensive” towards the promotion of a developmental model: “Ecological Civilisation”. Based on a critical discourse analysis of headline African news published by the Xinhua News Agency, this research illustrates the emergence of this new, unexpected turn in Chinese representations of Africa, as well as highlighting the coherencies and tensions within this discourse. Questioning why this change in the emphasis of content has occurred, it investigates explanations at the macro-, mezzo-, and micro-levels of analysis, concluding that the evidence indicates that Xinhua’s content remains closely linked to the soft power goals of the Chinese Communist Party. However, the presence of risk discourses in some reports indicates that the hegemonic discourse is altering. This could potentially be the result of Xinhua’s own commercial objectives in Africa, or of the subjectivities of individual Xinhua journalists seeping into reports. This research provides significant contributions to an understanding of Chinese soft power in Africa, the ecology of Chinese media in Africa, and the development of environmental discourses.