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China’s footprints in Africa

Updated On: May 18, 2007

Beijing announced the launch of a Chinese-manufactured communications satellite into orbit for its client Nigeria. This is a first for Nigeria and probably a first for the African continent of a Chinese-made commercial satellite put into orbit on contract for another country. The launch of the Nigcomsat-1, aboard a Long March 3B rocket was a US$311 million (S$470 million) deal secured in 2004 through a bidding process in which China outbid 21 other companies.

The satellite represents China's wish to cooperate with developing countries in the peaceful use of outer space and to promote a closer relationship between Chinaand African countries,' Xinhua said. It was similarly hailed as an achievement by the Nigerian bureaucracy. The satellite is expected to generate more than 150,000 jobs in Nigeria, save broadband users and phone users hundreds of millions of dollars annually and provide Internet access to remote rural villages in the country.

Along with its increased profile in the African continent, China has announced plans to guarantee the safety of its workers abroad after killings and kidnappings of Chinese workers highlight the vulnerabilities of China’s global economic expansion. Xinhua News Agency reported Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Quan as saying that the 'security situation' was 'quite serious'. Commerce Minister Bo Xilai reiterated that companies operating abroad must 'respect local laws and regulations and fulfil necessary social responsibilities'.  He also reflected the Chinese government’s promise to develop a Chinese system that can respond to these threats in the African continent.

The world may just be witnessing the rise of Chinese power in Africa. Nevertheless, some grievances would have to be responded to. China is accused, especially by the West, of being partners with repressive rulers, treating local workers shabbily and undercutting local manufacturers through a flood of cheap goods in the African continent.

Such issues, however, are not stopping the march of Chinese economic expansion on the continent. Beijing will still continue to encourage Chinese companies, especially small and medium-size firms, to invest in Africa. 'Economic cooperation between Asia and Africa has great significance, huge potential and a bright future,' Mr Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People's Bank of China, told finance ministers gathered for the first annual meeting of the African Development Bank to be held in Asia.

800 Chinese companies are expected to be active in Africa further augmenting bilateral trade which had already reached US$55.5 billion (S$84 billion) in 2006, four times its 2000 amount. Beijing hopes that the figure would rise to US$100 billion by 2020. Mr Zhou also said: 'We will make more efforts to share with African countries in terms of reform and opening up the financial sector.'

Along with this economic expansion, Africa is expected to receive more Chinese goodies. Mr Zhou pledged increased funding for the African Development Fund which funds anti-poverty programs in 40 of the continent's poorest nations. In 2006, China also promised to double aid to Africa by 2009, set up a US$5 billion investment fund and provide US$3 billion in loans over the next three years.

China’s moves are not new. Since the establishment of the PRC, China has been touting itself as champions of the Third World and emphasising South-South cooperation. But what is different this time around is that it is no longer ideological. China has something that it needs from the continent – natural resources and lots of it. In early 2007, for this purpose, President Hu Jintao went on a 12-day tour of eight African nations, most significantly this is his third visit to the continent since taking office in 2003. Last year too, the world was treated to the spectacle of a historic summit that brought leaders from 48 African nations to Beijing where Chinadoubled its aid and offer US$5 billion (S$7.6 billion) in loans and credits by 2009.

Sources:

Plans to keep China workers abroad safe (Straits Times, 16 May 2007)

African Development Bank opens annual meetings in Shanghai (People's Daily, 16 May 2007)

China to continue assistance for African countries (People's Daily, 16 May 2007)

Beijing urges small firms to invest in Africa (Straits Times, 16 May 2007)

Made-in-China satellite launched for Nigeria  (Asia One, 15 May 2007)

Venue for African Development Bank meeting reflects Beijing's clout (Straits Times, 15 May 2007)