2005-12-16

Intolerance & Money: China moves in Africa

In Johannesburg's bustling 'Oriental Plaza', the Chinese are ruffling feathers... Established under 'Apartheid' for South Africa's Indian traders, 'Oriental Plaza' has in recent months seen an influx of Chinese businessmen selling goods so cheap that long-established shops cannot compete. About 1_900 miles away in the oil-rich seas off Angola, the Chinese are busy bidding for concessions to power their economic boom, while Chinese-made jet fighters swoop over Zimbabwe in exercises that are a reminder of Beijing's support for Mr.Robert Mugabe. Across Africa, China's economic and diplomatic presence is expanding in an accelerating push that is raising both hopes and fears far beyond African shores. Since Mr.Hu Jintao, China's president, used a visit to Gabon last year to announce a new drive to strengthen relations with Africa, the Chinese have been working to cement the gains of the past several years. Its diplomats feature at African summits, flying the flag of 'Third World' friendship and offers to cancel some 1_300_million_USD in bilateral debt. Chinese businessmen snap up commodities, while Chinese doctors treat Africa's sick under assistance programmes that win friends among people often forgotten by the rest of the world.
'China's move into Africa is displacing traditional Anglo-French and United States interests on the continent,' said Mr.Martyn Davies, director of 'The Centre for Chinese Studies' at South Africa's 'Stellenbosch University'.
Reminders of China's ties to Africa stand in many African capitals where Chinese-built stadiums echo an era from the 1950s and 1960s when Chairman Mao's engineers forged anti-imperialist solidarity with Africa's independence leaders. But the current Sino-African business boom is unprecedented, driven by China's increasing hunger for raw materials to power a market-driven economy growing at over 9 per cent/year. In 2004, China's total exports to Africa hit 13_820_millio_USD, up 36 per cent over the previous year while imports -- largely raw materials -- surged 81 per cent to 15_650_million_USD, according to Chinese statistics. Beneath the diplomatic veneer, however, it is clear that China's immediate interest in Africa is oil and its state companies are moving fast to sew up deals in key producers such as Angola, Nigeria, Sudan and Congo. In Angola, China stepped in with a 2_000_million_USD credit line secured by future oil deliveries to upgrade war-damaged Angolan infrastructure after talks between Luanda and western lenders stalled over issues of transparency. China has since displaced the United States of America as Angola's biggest oil customer. Mr.Davies said China's activities in Angola and Sudan, where it has ignored concerns over atrocities in lawless Darfur to become the biggest foreign investor with 4_000_million_USD in projects, showed Beijing was adept at exploiting political openings.
'In key countries, China is becoming the new International Monetary Fund of Africa.'
Mr.Peter Draper, a trade analyst at South Africa's 'Institute for International Affairs', said Chinese competition was visible across Africa, particularly in construction projects as Chinese firms win key contracts for everything from Rwandan roads to an Algerian airport terminal.
'From a long-term perspective, if we engage China the potential for them to become partners increases. 'If we confront them, we will probably come off second best,' he said.
'China makes its economic strength felt across Africa ', Andrew Quinn, The Scotsman, 2005-12-16 Fr

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