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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Big business brings Beijing to Africa

President Hu Jintao's visit to Africa comes at a time of growing Chinese interest in the continent.

Beijing is desperate for oil and natural resources to fuel its booming economy. And some African nations have plenty of both.

China is also keen to find new markets for its booming factories which are churning out everything from shoes and cars to textiles and TV sets.

During the Cold War, Chairman Mao established links with many developing countries in Africa.

But now the old ties of communism are being replaced by capitalism.

Diplomatic support

The most recent Chinese foray into Africa came earlier this month, when China National Offshore Oil Corporation completed a deal to buy a 45% stake in a Nigerian oil block for more than $2bn.

The most that can be expected from co-operation with China is a more efficient extraction of raw materials
Leslie Farkas

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The oil field will be able to pump 225,000 barrels of oil per day when it comes on-stream in 2008.

It is the latest in a series of energy and minerals deals that China has signed with African countries, including Sudan, Chad, Angola, and Zimbabwe.

Trade between China and Africa is also increasing rapidly. Official statistics suggest that business ties are now worth more than $30bn and growing quickly.

But it's not just trade and oil that are driving this relationship.

China also has construction projects in countries as far apart as Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia. Until recently Beijing also had peacekeepers in Liberia.

China also wants good relations with African countries in order to get their diplomatic backing in Beijing's ongoing wrangle with Taiwan.

It considers Taiwan part of China and has threatened to use force if the island declares formal independence.

Growing competition

But China's interest in Africa has also sparked anger in the US and Europe.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing in Senegal
China's foreign minister recently concluded a tour of Africa
There are concerns about Beijing's willingness to do business with countries whose governments have been the subject of sustained international criticism like Sudan and Zimbabwe.

China insists it is merely trading with these nations and adhering to its policy of non-interference in other countries' internal affairs.

But it is not that simple - Beijing has used its veto at the United Nations to block pressure on Sudan's leaders to halt the ongoing violence in Darfur.

And in the past it has sold arms to Zimbabwe.

There are also concerns in Washington that China's growing clout will undermine American interests.

The US is also looking for energy on the continent, which could lead to a growing competition for influence in Africa.

So China's presence is not without controversy. But Beijing's need for energy and minerals, combined with its desire to increase trade, means that the country's leaders will be making far more visits to Africa in the future.

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