02/10/2009, 00.00
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Hu Jintao begins first trip to Africa in the age of the global crisis

For years, China has been extending its economic ties with African countries, buying raw materials. Beijing loves to present itself as a friendly country, but is often accused of colonial exploitation. Now, in a period of crisis, competition with Western countries is diminishing.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Chinese president Hu Jintao today begins his "traditional" trip to Africa, which will take him to Mali, Senegal, Tanzania, and Mauritius. Important economic agreements are expected, as the Chinese presence and influence increases in the continent. Before landing on African soil, Hu will stop in Saudi Arabia, China's main oil supplier.

Sources for the Chinese Foreign Ministry say that the trip to the African continent is not primarily commercial in nature, but is a sign of "good and profound traditional friendship with African countries." Beijing loves to repeat that it relates to these states on an equal basis, and emphasizes that the countries involved in this trip have none of the vast natural resources that China is looking for.

But the fact remains that trade with Africa reached 106.8 billion dollars in 2008, compared to 40 billion in 2005. Beijing, in part through companies controlled by the state, has dedicated tens of billions of dollars in financing and investment to Africa, especially in order to secure rights to raw materials: oil from Sudan (a country embargoed by much of the world because of the genocide in Darfur), Nigeria, and Angola; cobalt and copper from Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo; iron from Liberia; bauxite from Guinea.

Beijing extracts raw materials and exports finished products (textiles, automobiles, electronics, telecommunications equipment), often at the expense of fledgling local industries (there have been widespread anti-Chinese protests by industrialists and businessmen in South Africa). International organizations accuse them of doing business with corrupt governments as well, without any concerns about whether the money paid will truly benefit the population, or enrich the powerful elites.

The projects financed are often handled by Chinese companies.

China has sometimes been accused of exploiting local manual labor, by making people work in unacceptable conditions: in March of 2008, miners in Zambia took to the streets and opened a genuine manhunt against Chinese business owners, who had to be rescued by the police. Beijing is also accused of exploiting local resources without concern for the environment and ecology.

In addition to this, in the current period of crisis, with many Western investors in difficulty, Chinese state-owned companies see good opportunities to reinforce their presence, by investing in infrastructure and raw materials of every kind.

Experts observe that, in exchange for aid, China receives support from African countries in international organizations.

In the photo, the construction of the National Grand Theater in Dakar, Senegal, in which China has invested 233.5 million yuan, about 23 million euros.

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