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China gets foothold in Africa by staying out of politics

By Antoaneta Bezlova | Last updated: Jun 12, 2006 - 10:39:00 AM

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BEIJING (IPS/GIN) - China is busy building railways and roads in Angola, Nigeria and Kenya, revving up trade volumes with South Africa and Zambia and, most of all, guzzling up Africa’s rich reserves of oil and minerals. Increasingly too, Beijing is courting resource-rich countries, like the Sudan and Zimbabwe, that have been marginalized in recent years by the West, and forging partnerships on the strength of its non-interfering foreign policy.

Countering the United States’ geopolitical clout in Africa appears to be at the heart of Beijing’s efforts, based on unease among Chinese commentators about resumption of diplomatic relations between Libya and the U.S.

The two countries have not had full ties for more than 25 years, but relations significantly improved after Libya decided in December 2003 to give up its nuclear weapons program. Last week, the Bush administration announced it would open an embassy in Tripoli and drop Libya from its list of nations that sponsor terrorism.

U.S. officials were frank in expressing their hopes that the move will encourage Libya to further open its underdeveloped oil industry, which is potentially one of the world’s largest, whose oil reserves are reported to rank among the top 10 worldwide.

Zimbabwe, China in $1.3 Billion Power Deal

Business in Africa
Johannesburg, 06-12-2006

(PANA) - Zimbabwe, in an attempt to alleviate the chronic shortage of electricity, has signed energy deals with China worth $1.3bn.

Zimbabwe, which is facing a cash crisis, would provide chrome to the Chinese to fund the building of three thermal power stations.

Zimbabwe has failed to maintain its power stations and currently imports 30 percent of its electricity from South Africa, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The agreement would see China National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corporation building thermal power stations in Zimbabwe's Dande district, about 200km west of the capital, that could generate a total of 600mW.

Nervousness about this step forward for the U.S. in the oil-rich country was palpable in some of the opinions published in the Chinese press.

One of Beijing’s dailies, the Xinjingbao, ran a signed opinion on May 21 portraying Libya’s leader Muammar Qaddafi as a former “strong man” who in the past dared say “no” to the West, before noting that his “petroleum nationalism of early years has now been replaced by a mere pragmatism.” The official China Daily saw U.S.-Libya rapprochement as a potential impediment to China’s own aggressive push to expand its influence in Africa.

Yuan Peng, a researcher with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, argued that after years of neglect of this “strategic vacuum area,” Washington has come to realize the importance of a fresh start with Africa.

“Both security interests and oil interests (in the restoration of U.S.-Libyan diplomatic ties) are at the service of a grander strategic goal —overhauling the U.S. African strategy,” Yuan wrote in the China Daily.

“Will a chain reaction in African-U.S. relations be triggered off by the U.S. increasing strategic input in the continent? This is a subject worth closely watching and following,” he concluded.

The U.S.-Libyan rapprochement comes at a time when Beijing’s clout in Africa is rising.

Diplomacy has been backed by a steady wave of investment in rebuilding and expanding infrastructure in the impoverished continent.

China pledged a loan of $1 billion to oil-rich Nigeria to help it repair its dilapidated railway system and another infrastructure deal was recently clinched between China and Algeria, also an important African oil producer. China’s Citic Group and China Railway Construction Group fended off rival bids from European and U.S. firms to build almost half of Algeria’s 756-mile East-West highway.

Last year China offered Angola a $2 billion dollar soft infrastructure loan in order to win a contract to develop an offshore oilfield, which India was also bidding for. In addition to bilateral donations, Beijing has also pledged $100 million to the Asian Development Fund and the Africa Development Fund.

Beijing has termed its double-pronged strategy of winning political friends and securing long-term supplies of natural resources on the continent as the new “win-win” concept of partnership with Africa.

“China plans to establish and develop a new type of strategic partnership with Africa characterized by equality and mutual trust on the political front, cooperation conducted on the basis of ‘win-win’ economics with reinforced cultural exchanges,” said a document released in the Malian capital, Bamako, in January at the end of China Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing’s visit there.

China believes the time to establish its presence firmly in the continent is limited. Chinese experts predict the next five to eight years will be a golden time for Chinese companies to invest in Africa.

“Africa has become a new focus for global investors, and Chinese companies will be presented with huge business opportunities if they enter the market early,” Chi Changsheng, an expert with the National Development and Research Commission, China’s top planning body, told a recent forum on Chinese investment in Africa.

Touring Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya last month, Chinese President Hu Jintao repeatedly emphasized that China would adhere to its long-standing non-interventionist policy in dealing with other countries. “We respect the political model chosen by the African people,” he was quoted as saying in Nairobi.