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Ambitions of the Dragon

China's Scramble for African Resources

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China's Scramble for African Resources

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In Africa, even the average street vendor knows of Chinese president Hu Jintao by name. China is playing a crucial role in Africa's return to the international stage.

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China's Scramble for African Resources

By Shu-ren Koo
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 394 )

Walking past the President's Residence in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, I encountered a throng of street vendors flogging handicrafts. Noticing the presence of an Asian reporter wielding a camera, one vendor immediately piped up, "Chinese? I love Chinese people. Hu Jintao is Africa's best friend!"

Perhaps he meant it, or perhaps it was a ploy for plying his wares, but the vendor's casual knowledge of a Chinese national leader thousands of miles away is telling of the depths of Chinese influence in Africa.

From Egypt to South Africa, people from all walks of life – vendors, merchants, reporters, academics and civil servants alike – are talking about China. As the Middle Kingdom establishes a broader and deeper presence in Africa, its political and economic ties with Africa are growing at an exponential rate. In less than seven years their mutual trade volume has grown nearly seven-fold, and non-financial direct investments from China have grown 600 percent in four years. (Tables 1 and 2)

This growth is mainly the result of the Chinese government exchanging aid and investments for access to Africa's abundant natural resources. To make this happen, Chinese president Hu Jintao and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao have visited 19 African countries in recent years, more so than the leaders of any other nation.

 Stepping on Western Toes

From the new international expo center in Cairo to hospitals in Lesotho, Zimbabwe's presidential residence, Nigeria's WiMax base station and power plant, Angora's oil refinery and railway, the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia, and hundreds of other roads, bridges, and ports, China has contributed US$5.7 billion in aid to over 900 African infrastructure projects. In so doing, it has also facilitated the quick transfer of African resources to China. In addition, China has set up Confucius Institutes in six countries to promote Chinese culture, and canceled debts totaling US$1.3 billion for African nations.

In exchange, an endless supply of Africa's oil and other natural resources are pouring into China. Oil constitutes 65 percent of all African exports to China, which comprise 30 percent of all Chinese imports. "The Chinese are calling or emailing everyday wanting to buy oil," says an executive of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. Following in the government's wake is a wave of state-run enterprises and private businessmen eager to turn a profit in Africa.

Set up in 40 African countries, Huawei Technology is sub-Saharan Africa's second largest telecommunications network provider. Last year, the China Construction Bank and Nigeria's United Bank for Africa set up a strategic alliance, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has purchased 20 percent of shares in Africa's largest bank, the Standard Bank of South Africa.

In South Africa's Johannesburg, there are now two major commercial districts occupied by Chinese businesses. They import Chinese products into South Africa for distribution to the rest of Africa over land, via a network of similar commercial districts. One Taiwanese businessman after another readily concedes, "Our biggest competitors are now the Chinese."

The Dragon's presence on the African plains has made some ecstatic, and others worried. Abdul Milazi, associate editor of South Africa's Business Times, believes that affordable daily commodities made in China have improved the lives of the average African.

Yet to the African people, that "China doesn't become a new colonial power is a very important issue," says industrialist Zwelakhe Sisulu.

More importantly, by embracing its new darling China and stepping on the toes of its old suitors the US and Europe, Africa is elevating its international strategic positioning and effecting a return to the world stage.

As executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue in South Africa Garth le Pere observes, "In all these changes, China is the biggest catalyst."

Translated from the Chinese by Ellen Wieman


Chinese Version: 中國深耕搶奪非洲資源

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