10/31/2006, 00.00
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Beijing set for China-Africa summit

Leaders of African states are heading for the Chinese capital. They are about to have their debts to China cancelled. The participation of the dictator Mugabe has been confirmed.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Leaders of African states are about to arrive in the Chinese capital to take part in the third Forum on China-Africa Cooperation slated for 4 and 5 November. The agenda of the meeting includes China's cancellation of African debt and the signing of new contracts.

The Chinese deputy Trade Minister, Wei Jianguo, said on 26 October: "Chinese investments have promoted growth in African countries, increased work opportunities, brought technological innovation to African and improved the standard of living of the African people." This is the standard type of response given by the Asian giant to accusations that it is after Africa's new colonization.

The Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister yesterday confirmed that the dictator of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, and the President of Sudan, Omar Hassan el Beshir, will be among the 40 heads of state and government present at the Sino-African summit.

Robert Mugabe, dictator of Zimbabwe, has been isolated by western governments that call for more respect for human rights and the establishment of the rule of law. So his policy is "to look to the East". Beijing has sold him merchandise and arms.

This year, there were three high-ranking Chinese missions to Africa: first the Foreign Affairs Minister, Li Zhaoxing, then President Hu Jintao and finally Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. They covered 15 African countries (Morocco, Nigeria, Kenya, Cape Verde, Senegal, Liberia, Mali, Libya, Congo, Angola, Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda). Between 2000 and 2005, trade between China and Africa rose by 300% to exceed 40 billion US dollars per year.

Beijing seeks above all oil and other raw materials: metals, minerals and wood too. But it has also invested, financing roads and other public works and refineries, usually expecting the works to be contracted to Chinese firms. These firms, then, often bring raw materials (like cement) and workers with them, normally using the local workforce for unskilled labour. Many African workers have now come to dread the arrival of the Chinese, afraid that they could threaten their already miserable standard of life.

The competition posed by Chinese merchandise has impoverished the economies of many African states whose merchandise (like textiles) cannot compete on western markets and sometimes not even on domestic markets. Chinese products have flooded many states but they are increasingly turning out to be of substandard quality. In Nigeria, Chinese companies have been accused of filling Nigerian markets with fake and substandard goods. In December 2005, Nigerian officials shut down several shopping centers run by Chinese traders in the commercial capital, Lagos.

In its drive to expand markets and alliances, Beijing does not deny that it offers collaboration and aid to the most repressive governments on the continent. Western states, on the other hand, tie trade to respect for political rights and the granting of social reforms. China is the number one exporter of oil in Angola, whose government is held to be one of the most corrupt. And it is a great buyer of Sudan's oil and lent the country significant political support at the United Nations, indicating that it may exercise its power of veto to prevent a tough resolution condemning the genocide in Darfur.

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