Chinafrica (13) Watching for PRC Influence in Africa
Western Leaders Monitor China-Africa Summit
The Nation (Nairobi)NEWS17 May 2007Posted to the web 16 May 2007Nairobi
The summit between African leaders and the Chinese government and business leaders in Beijing was being carefully monitored by Western governments who are concerned at the way in which China appears to be flouting agreements over the environment in its search for new markets.
A large number of Africa's 53 states were represented in last week's meetings, with most sending their heads of state, including five that recognise Taiwan.
China announced a package of measures covering aid, trade and social development for Africa during the summit of 48 African leaders amid concerns from rights groups about links with Sudan and Zimbabwe.
The summit underscores China's deepening links with Africa, whose mineral and oil wealth it covets and whose countries form an important strategic bloc vote in world bodies.
"We take great pride in China's strong and warm friendship with Africa," Chinese Vice Premier
Wu Yi said at the opening of the ministerial conference.
"We should, with an eye on new developments, fully tap co-operation potential and draw on each other's strengths to broaden and upgrade co-operation."
China's trade with Africa is expected to top $50 billion this year, and while the summit is largely about handshakes and banquets, analysts also expect it to be an opportunity to cement trade and investment deals that have been in the pipeline.
China and Liberia have signed a preliminary deal to allow China's second-largest state oil and gas firm, Sinopec Group, to explore for oil and gas in the West African state, Henry Boima Fahnbulleh, Liberian Assistant Minister for African-Asian Affairs, said. Ghana was close to finalising a $600 million deal with China's Sino Hydro Corporation to build a 400 megawatt hydroelectric dam in the north of the West African country.
A Chinese consortium also recently signed a $3 billion iron ore deal in Gabon, which includes extending a railway and building a bulk commodities and container port.
"It would be remiss of me if I failed to mention the very commendable step that was taken by China to facilitate greater access for commodities from Africa," Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Minister Seyoum Mesfin told the conference.
Chinese leaders have already made ground-breaking visits to East Africa earlier this year, including the visit by President Hu Jintau to Kenya in April.
Beijing's interest in African natural resources mostly centres around oil and prospective new oilfields but also includes concessions for copper and cobalt, iron and platinum, timber and cotton.
With its economy growing by around nine per cent a year over the past 10 years, Beijing is in need of new natural resources to feed this growth.
The quid pro quo for Africa has been enormous, with new trade deals being signed and Chinese promises to develop the infrastructure such as the major road, rail and bridge building programme in Angola.
By the end of last year, China had invested around $6.27 billion in Africa. This investment has helped boost GDP growth across Africa as a whole by around 4.4 per cent since 2001. Africa's economy grew by 5.5 per cent in 2005 and is expected to do even better this year.
But the largest impact has been in two-way trade, which jumped from around $10 billion in 2000 to around $50 billion this year. According to London's Financial Times, the trade balance is slightly in Africa's favour.
With growing economies, programmes to rebuild shattered infrastructure, developing trade links and more investment planned, many Africans have criticised Western governments for their negative attitude to the developing Chinese presence.
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