Barely a month goes by without some new energy or mineral deal being struck between China and an African nation. These deals have transfixed the West, but China gets far more from the relationship than raw resources.
Africa offers China two things — a chance to earn the global respect it believes it deserves for its growing economic clout, and friends who do not judge it, or who at least have little reason to directly fear China’s rise.
Communist China’s friendly relations with Africa go back decades, to when Beijing backed newly independent states as well as liberation movements. The continent’s backing was vital in getting China into the United Nations in 1971.
“You could argue that the contemporary driver is economic, but they’ve always had a political interest in Africa, from the mid-1950s onward,” said Chris Alden, an Africa expert at the London School of Economics.
“As China becomes a more active player in multilateral affairs, it recognises it needs partners, and Africa in many ways is a very suitable partner.”
In 2006, President Hu Jintao promised a leap in investment, trade and aid at Beijing’s first summit with African leaders. At the G20 summit of big developed and developing economies last November, he raised Africa’s needs during the global economic turmoil.
When Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visits Egypt for the Africa-China summit in early November, analysts expect him to match the $5 billion in loans and credit offered then by Hu, or even exceed it.
Africa’s GDP is about $1.2 trillion, roughly one quarter the size of China’s $4.4 trillion economy.