05/17/2007, 00.00
CHINA – AFRICA
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China and Africa to develop together without neo-colonial relations

For the first time Beijing is concerned about Africa’s crises and the Darfur genocide. But trade remains its main focus. African states want to improve trade relations with China and Asia but do not want to be exploited.

Shanghai (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China wants to increase economic ties with Africa and, on the long run, play a role in solving the crisis in the Darfur. African countries, for their part, do not want to lose Beijing’s co-operation, but want to avoid any form of economic colonialism. This much has come out of the two-day summit of the African Development Bank that was held in Shanghai.

In opening the meeting yesterday Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had said that “support and assistance are also indispensable” for Africa, claiming credit for cancelling billions of yuan in debt for African countries.  He had insisted that economic co-operation contributes to peace but did not mention Sudan and Zimbabwe, countries that are boycotted by the international community, but which have close ties to Beijing.

Similarly, Li Ruogu, chairman of the state-owned Export-Import Bank of China (China Exim), which handles most of the country's overseas aid loans, said robust economic growth in Sudan through trade and investment “will, in the long run, help in the resolution of the Darfur problem.”

Until recently, Beijing had treated the Darfur conflict as an internal problem of a sovereign state.

“I'm confident closer Asian-African co-operation will contribute to debt reduction and poverty alleviation in Africa,” said People's Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan

For their part, many members of the regional bank cited the mainland's model of growth as a model for Africa.

“You are an example of transformation. We in Africa must learn from your success,” Madagascan President Marc Ravalomanana said.

Other top-level officials were less confident. Kenyan Finance Minister Amos Kimunya wondered: “Asian economic growth is leading to demand for resources. Is this a blessing or threat for Africa?”

Paul Toungui, a Minister of State in Gabon, a country rich in oil, minerals and forest, warned that steps should be taken to protect the environment and urged foreign companies exploiting natural resources to transfer knowledge to the host countries and process raw materials locally instead of just shipping them abroad.

China has heavily invested in Sudan. It gets 5 per cent of its oil from the African country. Sudanese oil output is rising quickly and should reach 600,000 barrels per day by the end of this year. Chinese companies dominate Sudan's south-central oil fields, own large stakes in local refineries, and are building a pipeline and an oil terminal. Altogether some 10,000 Chinese nationals work in Sudan.

China has always exercised its veto power to prevent sanctions against the Khartoum regime to stop the genocide in Darfur (450,000 dead since 2003 and about 2.5 million refugees).

But criticism is growing and getting louder. This month Amnesty International accused China and Russia of selling weapons, including planes, to Sudan used to massacre the civilian population.

Human rights activists have started calling for a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Feeling the heat, China has responded to some of the criticism. Last October it backed a United Nations plan to increase the international peacekeeping force in the Darfur region and offered US$ 10 million in humanitarian aid. In May of this year it announced it was going to send 275 military engineers to help strengthen the international presence

Undaunted, critics point out that Beijing is still primarily interested in exploiting African natural resources, entertains ties with corrupt regimes which use Chinese aid money to the elites’ advantage, and is out to undermine US influence in the continent and isolate Taiwan, which still has diplomatic relations with a few African countries.

For instance, Chinese Health Minister Gao Qiang said in Geneva on Tuesday that China would donate US$ 8 million to the World Health Organisation to fight disease in Africa, after the WHO's decision-making body voted to rule out discussion of Taiwan’s bid to join as a full member under its own name.

In response to criticism that Beijing's economic largesse could foster corruption, Premier Wen said China would improve transparency regarding mainland-funded assistance projects in Africa.

Other projects have been accused of threatening the local environment and populations like the Merowe dam project in Sudan, which human rights groups say is forcing 70,000 people to move from their homes in the Nile Valley into the Nubian Desert. (PB)

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