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Beijing Summit - Implications For Africa
They arrived in long convoys, well spruced up in national and continental attires. That itself, was a sufficient indication that the two-day summit was of prime importance to African leaders and their Chinese counterpart, President Hu Jintao. Tagged Forum on China-African Co-operation (FOAC), the Beijing Summit, which is the third, in the last six years, is significant in many respect.
The forum raises several issues of economic and political dimensions in a world that is fast blurring national boundaries with the reality of globalization. As at the last count, 48 heads of state and government from Africa were already at the Summit which took-off yesterday. During the conference, Chinese and African leaders will review issues in the friendship and cooperation over the last 50 years (since the establishment of the diplomatic relations between China and African countries).
The participants would make plans for future cooperation between both groups and discuss issues of bilateral relations, overall cooperation between China and Africa and matters of common interests. Also, new strategic partnership of political equality and trust, economic cooperation, and cultural exchange are also billed to be established. In particular, China is expected to propose some important ideas and initiatives to strengthen Sino-African relations, and will give specific suggestions on how to help African countries accelerate economic development. The summit will also promote Sino-African friendship and cooperation.
The theme of the summit: "Peace, Friendship, Cooperation, Development", underscores China's pledge not to discriminate or intervene in the domestic affairs of African countries. She even invited the five African countries - Burkina Faso, Malawi, Gambia, Swaziland and Sao Tome and Principe. She also extended diplomatic recognition to her rival, Taiwan.
China 's trade with Africa is growing faster than with any other region except the Middle East, increasing tenfold in the past decade. To experts, it is just shy of $40 billion last year. China buys timber from the Congo Republic, iron ore from South Africa and cobalt and copper from Zambia. An estimated 80,000 Chinese expatriates live in Africa, selling shoes, televisions and everything else the world's factory produces.
China is the world's largest developing country and Africa is the world's largest developing continent. For half a century, political relations between China and Africa have developed steadily with great advances being made in economic and trade cooperation. China has diplomatic relations with 48 African countries. The bilateral volume of trade has similarly increased from US$12 million in 1956 to nearly US$40 billion in 2005, and is projected to exceed US$50 billion in 2006. China-Africa relations are at their strongest in history.
Beijing 's aggressive pursuit of commodities has often been accompanied by generous aid programs, low-interest loans and other gifts that some Western interests say undermine efforts to foster good governing in Africa. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have expressed their concerns that China's unrestricted lending, including a $2 billion credit line for corruption-plagued Angola, has undermined years of painstaking efforts to arrange conditional debt relief.
Some African economists have also complained that China wants to extract raw materials for industry and then sell manufactured goods back to Africa, a mercantilist pattern that failed to bring sustained growth in the past.
Thus, to many, China's latest move is responsible for the growing concerns among human rights groups. They alleged that there is threat on the part of China to use its veto in the United Nations (UN) Security Council to protect Sudan and Zimbabwe against international sanctions. The rights groups alleged China's arms exports to Sudan fuel the conflict in Darfur, which has claimed at least 200,000 lives and has forced more than two million people from their homes.
Sudan , shunned by the West for its genocidal civil war in Darfur, was a net oil importer before China arrived there in 1995. China has since invested heavily in oil extraction, helping Sudan export about $2 billion worth of crude annually, half of that to China.
Given this background, China's enthusiasm for Africa has raised concerns among many in the West given the fact that this is coming at a time when the United States is distracted by her efforts to curb terrorism, just as France, Britain and other former colonial powers exert less influence in Africa than they once did.
To many global players, China does not follow the international lending standards intended to fight corruption in the region. It has embraced the leaders of Sudan and Zimbabwe, two countries that are under heavy pressure to improve their poor human rights records.
China 's economic goal is to secure Africa's abundant supplies of oil, iron ore, copper and cotton at the lowest possible prices, analysts says. Chinese companies view Africa as an open market, neglected by Western multinationals, that they can cultivate with their trademark low-priced goods.
Sino-African political relations have been maturing since the beginning of the new century. The FOAC, which was established in 2000, has become an effective mechanism and a practical platform for China-Africa collective dialogue. Since the second FOAC held in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia at the end of 2003, China and Africa have worked vigorously to implement follow-up actions with quite some effective measures, which have achieved expected results. For six years, leaders and foreign ministers from China and African countries have visited one another more than 200 times, including 50 visits by Chinese leaders.
To increase imports from Africa, the Chinese government imposes zero tariffs on 190 commodities sold to 30 of Africa's least developed countries. At the end of 2005, China's direct investment in Africa totaled US$1.6 billion. China has helped African countries train approximately 14,600 professionals and played a positive role in sustainable economic development.
This year alone, many senior Chinese government officials including the President, Prime Minister, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Commerce have all undertaken major and high profile tours to Africa, visiting over 10 countries. Not until the Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's visit last June, it may not have occurred to many observers that senior Chinese officials visit Africa almost on quarterly basis. This year alone, the president, prime minister, ministers of foreign affairs and commerce have all undertaken tours to Africa, visiting over 10 countries.
Economic experts believe that Beijing's fast-rising involvement with Africa grows out of China's immense and growing need for natural resources, in particular for imported oil, of which 25 percent now comes from Africa. Lacking the economic and political ties that Western Europe has with Africa as a legacy of colonialism, and the economic power that the United States wields because of its wealth and influence in international financial institutions, China's new leadership under President Jintao has pushed to forge stronger ties. Hu himself traveled to Africa in January, February and May visiting Egypt, Gabon and Algeria, Morocco, among other nations.
Since the year 2000, China's diplomatic machine has spared no effort in making sure that African leaders do not view its interest as a passing fancy. Analysts in African affairs say that China's choices of partners and its diplomatic philosophy, which preaches non-interference in other countries' internal affairs, may have important consequences for Africa, especially at a time when Western countries seem largely pre-occupied elsewhere. At one time many African countries, whether colonies locked in liberation struggles or fledgling, often non-aligned states, viewed China as a progressive ally and counter-weight to the West. But those days are gone, and increasingly, China's involvement in Africa is pure big business.
While visiting the African continent in 1996, then Chinese President Jiang Zemin put forward a five-point proposal on establishing a long-term, stable Sino-African relationship of stability and cooperation that is geared to the 21st century. The five points include sincere friendship, treating each other equally, unity and cooperation, common development and looking into the future. The proposal has become the foundation of China's policy toward Africa. The new Chinese leadership, carrying forward the cause of the old leadership and forging ahead into the future, adheres to China's policy toward Africa, and pays attention to strengthening unity and cooperation between the two.
Growing Implications for Africa...
The second biggest consumer of oil after the United States, China is searching the world for new sources of energy, and Africa is fast becoming an important supplier. To date, China has oil partnerships in Sudan, Chad, Nigeria, Angola and Gabon, and is exploring a potential collaboration in Kenya.
However, there are some debates among Africans over whether China is exploiting or benefiting their continent. The Chinese are busy developing much-needed African infrastructure: roads and rail lines in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Rwanda; a new hospital in Sudan; a farm and a bridge across the Nile; reclaiming thousands of hectares of farmland in Tanzania. But at what cost?
Moeletsi Mbeki, deputy chairman of the South African Institute of International Affairs, wrote recently in AllAfrica.com that China "is both a tantalizing opportunity and a terrifying threat to South Africa." On the one hand, he said that China was "just the tonic" that mineral-rich but economically ailing South Africa needs. But he added that exports from China and Hong Kong to his country are double those from Africa and almost double what South Africa exports to China. He called the trade relations between South Africa and China "a replay of the old story of South Africa's trade with Europe."
Said Mbeki: "We sell them raw materials and they sell us manufactured goods with a predictable result - an unfavorable trade balance against South Africa."
He went on to say that most of what Europe and America sell to South Africa are high tech goods that the latter does not produce itself, while imports from emerging Asian countries like China are goods his country is able to produce itself. In September, one of South Africa's largest trade unions threatened to boycott retailers it said were importing cheap Chinese products, which it said had lead to worsening unemployment at home.
In the meantime, many African nations are pleased that no political strings are attached to China's friendship - with the obvious exception that they must not recognize Taiwan and must affirm the one China policy. At present, only seven African nations have relations with Taiwan - one-quarter of the total - and a key part of China's Africa policy is denying Taiwan any greater diplomatic space on the continent.
He Wenping, director of the African Studies Section at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, believes that China and Africa share the view that countries should not meddle in each other's affairs. "We don't believe that human rights should stand above sovereignty," says Wenping. "We have a different view on this, and African countries share our view." This perhaps, has made China's in-road to Africa smooth.
Zimbabwe is a case in point. After Americans and Europeans withdrew from the country due to the government's destructive land reform programme and poor human rights record, China stepped in, ready to work with that embattled, and resource-rich, African nation.
During his recent trip to Africa, Wu Bangguo, chairman of China's legislature, spent four days in Zimbabwe, leading a delegation of 100 Chinese businessmen who had joint venture deals in mining, transportation, communications and power generation. It's no wonder that Emmerson Mnangagwa, speaker of Parliament, is so bullish on China. The official gushed in a state-run Zimbabwean newspaper: "With all-weather friends like the People's Republic of China... Zimbabwe will never walk alone."
Sudan is another example. China National Petroleum Corporation won an oil exploitation bid there in 1995, and when Washington cut ties two years later, the Chinese were ready to fill the void left by retreating Western oil companies. They helped to develop oil fields, built refineries, and laid two oil pipelines. Sudan, which was an oil importer before the Chinese arrived, now earns some US$2 billion in oil exports each year, half of which goes to China, accounting for five percent of the country's total imports. China owns a 40 percent stake in the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, the major consortium drilling in Sudan.
But more important for Sudan is Beijing's political support. China has vowed to veto any sanctions imposed against Sudan. When the UN Security Council tabled a resolution last September to punish Sudan for failing to stop atrocities in the troubled western region of Darfur, it was forced to water down the proposal to avoid a Chinese veto. China, Russia, Pakistan and Algeria all abstained in the vote for the weaker resolution that passed by 11-0.
Still, international pressure is growing for China to use its political influence to pressure Sudan, which critics say is using its oil dollars to fund the military actions against its black African population in Darfur. Some observers maintain that China, which relishes its relatively new position as an international mover, will not want to be seen as an obstacle to the solution of the problem in Sudan.
The problem is that while China predicts that the growth of oil consumption will slow sharply next year from the 20 percent rise in 2004, the country still faces continued power shortages.
If sanctions were to block oil from Iran and Sudan, China would be forced to scramble to find other sources, which could be problematic.
World Bank's Reaction
The Chinese initiative has been trailed with mixed and strong reactions. First, the World Bank has picked holes in the growing economic, financial and trade ties that Beijing and its conglomerates have with Africa's poor countries. The World Bank in fact, accused Beijing of non-compliance with the international best practice when granting Africa's poor countries some financial assistance. Expectedly, this allegation sparked a brief regime of Cold war between the World Bank and China.
This allegation has also generated altercation between the two authorities with Beijing battling hard to ensure that its economic and trade interests not just in the developing world, but equally in the developed countries are not affected.
President of the World Bank, Mr. Paul Wolfowtiz had said: "The Bank is very concerned about this development not only because China violated human rights and environmental standards, but because we would not like to see African countries which just benefited from debt relief entangle themselves in debt trap again. This has called for an immediate need to restore order in the international financial system."
According to Wolfowitz China and her banks violate human rights and environmental standards when lending to sub-Sahara African countries, noting that this unhealthy development and practice is a gross violation of the international code of conduct.
Beijing and its multinational banks countries granted to Africa's poor countries without observing the Equator Principle, a benchmark which symbolizes a code of conduct under which projects financed by private banks meet social and environmental standards.
But the Chinese authorities responded quite spontaneously to the allegations, saying that they amount to an affront on Beijing's sovereign authority and its Multinational banks across space and borders. Infact, Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry Spokesperson; Liu Jianchao described the World Bank's criticism as groundless, baseless and unacceptable. He said: " China would not like other countries to impose the values and social systems upon China. We will not impose our values and social systems on other countries". According to him, " China's loans to sub-Saharan Africa are meant to improve living conditions of ordinary people in the region."
China 's In-road to Africa...
How did China build this latest friendship with Africa? African countries have always lent a helping hand to China at critical moments. It was with the support and help of the country's African brothers that China had its seat at the UN restored; defeated Taiwan's attempts to return to the UN and join the World Health Organization (WHO). Africa also rejected an anti-China draft proposed by western countries at a meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights, making it possible for her become a formal member of the WTO; win the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games and the World Expo among others.
But a decade ago, China's influence in Africa was limited. Its aid programmes were hardly significant, its diplomats relatively unskilled. And many Chinese were unsure about their country's role as an international actor. In most international fora, China did little other than defend core interests, like the "one China" principle. Recently, however, continued strong economic growth, a more sophisticated generation of Chinese leaders, better scholarship in China on Africa, and a domestic population more confident in China as a global actor have encouraged Beijing to take a more proactive approach to foreign affairs.
To many, Beijing's motives are clear. China's growing industries demand new energy and raw material suppliers; its exporters want markets; its diplomats require support in international organizations; and its propaganda still seeks support from allies to advance Chinese interests and, when necessary, to counter the United States.
Africa has become central to these strategies. In part, China's courtship of Africa is a resource grab. Rapid Chinese economic growth coupled with dwindling domestic Chinese petroleum and mineral deposits have encouraged Beijing to look abroad for resources. Last year, China became the world's second-largest consumer of petroleum products, and its imports of natural gas, copper, cobalt, and other key resources are rising by as much as 20 percent annually.
Within the next decade, China's domestic oil production is likely to continue diminishing, and the country will surpass the United States as the largest global consumer of oil. And China possesses no significant strategic petroleum reserve. According to energy analysts such as Erica Downs of the Brookings Institution, who follows the debate on oil within the Chinese leadership, Beijing is convinced that it must become less dependent on market-dictated pricing in case of a global crisis or a deliberate US attempt to cut China's energy supply lines.
This search for resources takes Chinese officials to commodity-rich Africa, home to major oil producers, including Nigeria, Sudan, Angola, and Gabon, as well as some of the richest deposits of minerals in the world. China already imports about 28 percent of its oil and gas from sub-Saharan Africa, compared with about 15 percent for the United States, and it has made sizable copper purchases in Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other African states. Although Zimbabwe lacks oil, it has the second-largest deposits of platinum in the world; those riches remain largely untapped, as do Zimbabwe's deposits of more than 40 other minerals, including ferrochrome, uranium, gold, silver, and copper.
In fact, Chinese merchants may have been too successful. In 2004, Chinese exports to Ethiopia made up over 93 percent of the two nations' bilateral trade, and in the first half of 2005, Chinese purchases from Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somalia/Somaliland were negligible, an imbalance that could alienate these countries in the long run, as Beijing's trade imbalance has already begun to alienate Latin American states. In an attempt to ease the lopsided trade relationship, this year Beijing scrapped tariffs on 190 commodities from 25 African nations.
Another way China is making friends and allies in Africa is through generous aid donations. For example, China's contributions to African countries have increased exponentially in the past decade, reaching $4.7 billion in 2005. That's up from about $100 million from a decade before. This has put it far above other donors, including the U.S., France and Japan.
Thus, as the Beijing Summit rounds up today, it is evident that another chapter has once again been opened in African-China's relations.
Source: This Day. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).