48 African nations, China reach broad trade agreement

Deals of $1.9 billion, more in loans, credits

November 06, 2006|By New York Times News Service

BEIJING --China and a number of African nations agreed yesterday on 16 trade and investment deals valued at $1.9 billion, as Beijing extended its efforts to create a broad economic and diplomatic partnership with Africa, a resource-rich continent.

President Hu Jintao also pledged to extend $5 billion in loans and credits to Africa, to forgive past debts and double foreign aid to the continent.

In a declaration read at the end of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, China and 48 African nations pledged a partnership based on "political equality and mutual trust, economic win-win cooperation and cultural exchanges."

"We hold that the world today is undergoing complex and profound changes, and that the pursuit of peace, development and cooperation has become the trend of the times," Hu said after the meeting.

The aid announcement and deal-making capped a weekend of meetings that brought high-level representatives of 48 of the 53 African countries to Beijing. It was an unusually sweeping diplomatic initiative by China, which until recently had tended to focus mainly on domestic development rather than overseas expansion.

Though China supported socialist, postcolonial African leaders during the years under Mao Tse-tung, it had largely withdrawn its attention from Africa in the 1980s and 1990s as it accelerated market-oriented growth at home.

More recently, Hu has made cultivating economic and diplomatic ties to Africa a foreign policy priority even as the United States concentrates on combating terrorism.

Analysts say the main purpose is to secure supplies of natural resources, especially oil, iron ore and copper, for China's booming economy.

China has also sought to build diplomatic support among African nations for its priorities at the United Nations and other world organizations, where it does not always see eye to eye with the United States.

The Chinese government has also pushed hard to reduce the number of countries that extend diplomatic recognition to its rival, Taiwan, and even invited the five African countries that have relations with Taiwan to its weekend meeting. The five did not attend.

The official New China News Agency said the business deals with 11 African countries announced yesterday cover infrastructure, telecommunications, insurance and mineral resources.

On Saturday, Hu announced a broad aid package that included loans, debt relief and technical assistance. He said China would provide $3 billion in preferential loans and $2 billion in preferential credits over the next three years and that by 2009, China's annual aid to Africa would be double the level this year.

"Common destiny and common goals have brought us together," Hu said in a keynote speech.

China's outreach to Africa has been criticized by some in the West for ignoring human rights violations or serious corruption in countries that it has courted, including Sudan, Zimbabwe and Angola.

Western and African economists have also complained that China's approach is reminiscent of a mercantilist strategy that European nations once followed in Africa, because it focuses on extracting natural resources and raw materials from Africa and selling back finished goods. The critics say this does little to foster long-term economic development in the impoverished continent.

The weekend forum, which consisted mostly of formal ceremonies, handshakes and elaborate banquets, did not completely address those concerns.

Hu and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao did say they would act to encourage greater two-way trade with Africa. They said China would increase to 440 from 190 the number of African exports that would be allowed to enter China tariff-free.

They did not specify the items on that list, but if they included more manufactured goods, the offer could dampen criticism that China does not do enough to promote African manufactured goods.

The huge gathering, which attracted 1,700 official delegates and many other participants, also let China show how it could ensure smooth traffic flow and shut down polluting industries to clean up the air during a giant event - a preview of how it intends to handle the Olympics in 2008.

Wen predicted that bilateral trade with African nations would top $100 billion by 2010. Trade between China and Africa increased tenfold over the past decade, reaching almost $40 billion last year, and is expected to reach $50 billion this year.

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