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China flexes muscle in Africa

As the world's second-largest consumer of crude oil, Africa's petrol deposits are particularly high on Beijing's shopping list.

india Updated: Mar 13, 2006 11:21 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

Mary Okello explains why she sees nothing wrong in buying African products made in China. "I prefer the Chinese to the Indian shops. We understand each other," says Okello.

At his busy but grimy shop in a suburb of this Kenyan capital, Xhu confides that his plastic extensions used by African women for braiding their hair are particularly popular.

Shao Weijian at the Chinese embassy here says: "We believe more Chinese investments will come to Kenya due to the favourable business climate here, not only to increase employment for Kenya but also to bring advanced technologies and management from China to Kenya."

China's growing trade with Kenya not only cements its longstanding diplomatic ties with 47 of Africa's 53 states. As the world's second-largest consumer of crude oil, Africa's petrol deposits are particularly high on Beijing's shopping list.

China is currently the world's second largest economy after the US, and has a vast domestic market that consumes some six million barrels of oil a day.

Although trade with Africa only makes up three percent of the Asian country's total foreign trade, it was worth a record-breaking $37 billion in 2005, according to Beijing's White Paper on Africa released in January.

Beijing says it seeks to establish "a new strategic partnership with Africa on a basis of 'win-win' economic relationships with reinforced cultural exchanges."

China now gets 20 per cent of all its total oil needs from the Gulf of Guinea and Sudan. But its relations with "rogue" African states has made the US and Europe suspicious.

Western nations, when giving aid to developing countries, often take into account the recipient's human rights and governance credentials.

China's policy on Africa makes clear that it has no interest in mixing politics with business with politics.

Sudan is a good example. Beijing bought 50 percent of Sudan's total oil exports in 2005, and its investments in the country include 13 of the 15 largest foreign companies operating in Sudan.

The UN and human rights organisations have repeatedly accused Khartoum of training and arming Arab militias who the US has accused of genocide in Sudan's western Darfur region.

China opposed a UN Security Council resolution authorising sanctions against parties trying to disrupt the peace process in Sudan, despite being accused of acting only to safeguard its economic interest in the region.

Beijing also donated 3,000 tonnes of wheat to Zimbabwe, currently reeling from severe food shortages. Many believe the shortages are the result of President Robert Mugabe's controversial land reform programme.

Although China has also been involved in launching Nigeria's first space satellite, a milestone for African telecommunications, it has also been accused of being a major arms dealer on the continent.

First Published: Mar 13, 2006 11:21 IST