China plans more aid for Africa

China’s Xinhua news agency reported that the Chinese government had decided to offer more co-operation projects to Africa to deepen mutual benefit and co-operation and realise common development.

Chinese Vice Commerce minister Wei Jianguo was quoted as saying that China had put forward a series of measures including debt relief, exemption of tariff and personnel training to promote co-operation between the world’s fourth largest and fastest growing economy and Africa.

Trade between China and Africa has boomed to a projected US$50 billion this year from US$11 billion in 2000 and China’s president, premier and foreign minister all toured Africa last year, visiting 15 countries between them.

China’s investment and lending in Africa has been fuelled by its voracious appetite for oil and commodities, analysts say.

In addition, China has cancelled the debts of US$1.4 billion by 31 heavily indebted poor countries and least developed countries in Africa and extended zero tariff treatment to some imports from Africa.

China says it has helped establish some 900 projects in the continent and help train more than 14 600 personnel.

More than 40 African heads of state are attending the summit, billed as a warm up to the 2008-Beijing Olympics.

In the Southern African region, presidents Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia, Levy Mwanawasa-Zambia, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, Amarndo Geubuza of Mozambique are also part of the African heads of state attending the conference.

China has tried to reinforce a legacy of goodwill built through China’s support of African independence movements in the 1960s and 1970s with the theme of the summit, ‘Peace, Friendship, Co-operation and Development.’

“I expect that all of Africa will look at China’s great transformation, that will see the co-operation that is now going on between Africa and China and identify new means by which we can support each other,” Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf told journalists on her arrival in Beijing.

China has embassies in every country it has diplomatic ties with and has been pushing education and cultural exchanges, a strategy analysts say is about carving a role for itself in the hearts and minds of Africans.

All of the courting is not just with the business in mind, it also has a strategic aim, analysts said. African countries represent a bloc vote that could sway decisions in global bodies such as World Trade Organisation and the United Nations analysts say.

While the red carpets and commemorative stamps which characterise the summit may on the surface be only ceremonial, the gathering reinforces a message to Africa’s leaders that they are important to China at a time when the continent gets little attention from investors in the West, analysts say.

“It is giving status to African leaders and telling Africa that China is a country that takes Africa seriously. And that’s very important to the countries that are participating.” Chris Alden of the London School of Economic and Political Science was quoted by Reuters as saying.

November 2006
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