Resource Hungry China Makes Big Push Into Africa
Reuters | 26 nov
by Andrew Quinn
JOHANNESBURG - Crumbling sport stadiums still stand in many African capitals, the enduring symbols of China's Cold War courtship of the world's poorest continent during the 1960s and 1970s.
That was before the communist giant embraced capitalism and transformed itself into probably the world's fastest growing economy. Now the Chinese are back in Africa, promoting business deals and strengthening diplomatic alliances in a strategic push that analysts say marks sharp new competition for the continent's rich resources.
From west African oil fields, where Chinese companies rub shoulders with Western multinationals, to central African mines, Beijing's Africa outreach is raising eyebrows in some Western capitals which sense a serious new player on the continent.
"China's role in Africa is a major emerging trend," said analyst Jakkie Cilliers of South Africa's Institute for Security Studies. "Everyone is watching to see how far it will go."
It is already deep into Zambia's agricultural heartland, where Chinese farmers are increasingly raising the vegetables that are on sale at Lusaka's street markets.
In Botswana local people say Chinese firms have a virtual monopoly on the construction business. China is helping Nigeria launch satellites, promoting cell phones in Zimbabwe and adding peacekeepers to United Nations (news - web sites) operations across the continent.
CAPITALISTS NOT COLONIALISTS
Chinese officials are quick to point out that China is no newcomer to Africa, proudly declaring that Chinese explorers had direct sea links with the continent as early as AD 700, long before Europeans arrived.
In the 1950s and 1960s, China's communist rulers also worked to befriend African governments as they promoted political independence from both western and Soviet superpowers.
"China and Africa shared similar experiences, both having suffered from aggression, plunder and enslavement by colonialists," Liu Guijin, the Chinese ambassador to South Africa and one of Beijing's top Africa hands, said at a recent lecture.
China's leaders now spotlight these historical links for modern economic objectives, promoting Beijing as a reliable partner who has no interest in lecturing Africa on sensitive subjects such as human rights, governance and corruption.
"From an African perspective, there is great sympathy for the Chinese position which is premised on respect for sovereignty," said Cilliers of the ISS.
This approach is expected to help boost overall China-Africa trade to more than $20 billion this year, double the level seen in 2000. It has also won China staunch allies, led by Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who set a policy of "looking East" after Western powers imposed sanctions on his government.
State-owned Air Zimbabwe this month struck a deal with Chinese authorities to begin scheduled flights to Beijing.
"Politically, the 'look east' policy has given the government room to breathe," said Professor Heneri Dzinotyiwei of the University of Zimbabwe.
China is already the biggest buyer of Zimbabwean tobacco, and this month a high-powered Chinese delegation visited Harare to sign deals on energy, telecoms, agriculture and tourism.
Neighboring Zambia has also benefited from China's rediscovered interest in Africa, with Chinese private and state investing more than $265 million in Zambia, $100 million of it between 2002 and 2004, most of it in copper mining.
China has also given grants for maintaining the Tanzania-Zambia railway -- built by Chinese engineers sent by Chairman Mao Zedong in the 1960s -- and Z-Cell, the cell phone subsidiary of Zambia's state telecommunications company.
"They are good friends," said Zambian Finance Minister Peter Magande.
Analysts say China's Africa push is spurred in large part by its mounting hunger for raw materials, led by oil.
China is locking in long-term contracts with Nigeria and Angola -- which already supply it with as much oil as Saudi Arabia -- while China's state oil group CNPC owns 40 percent of Sudan's Greater Nile crude project and is looking at projects in possible new oil sources such as Niger.
China's oil operations in Africa put it in competition with western oil giants, whose high-handed methods have at times irritated their African hosts in the past.
"Many of the African governments like Chinese companies to come here to give balance to the current situation, which is dominated by western multinationals," Ambassador Liu said.
There are also political pay-offs for Beijing as it tightens its African links. Chief among these, analysts say, is limiting the diplomatic activities of Taiwan -- which Beijing calls a breakaway province -- and counterbalancing what China sees as resurgent "hegemonism" on the part of the United States.
"We are aware of increasing Chinese engagement....it is not a threat to us," said U.S. Ambassador Jendayi Frazer.