China Woos a Wary Africa
As Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao tours Africa this week, his "win-win" economic diplomacy is winning headlines but also provoking some skepticism in the online media.
"Chinese leaders are reaching out to Africa to dampen worries about China's rise on the continent, and to build influence," says South Africa's Business Day.
So far during Wen's tour, China has announced a peaceful nuclear technology agreement with South Africa, agreed to extend $2 billion in credit to Angola, signed an agreement to open coal mines in Zimbabwe and inaugurated a Chinese-built highway in Ghana.
This latest spurt of activity on the African continent is part of an ongoing effort by China to secure energy and mineral for its voracious economy. Chinese President Hu Jintao toured Africa on a similar mission
earlier this year.
But Africans are also learning the Chinese drive a hard bargain.
China wants a free trade agreement with South Africa which Business Day says would have a generally positive effect on the country's economy but "a drastically negative effect" on its clothing and shoe manufacturers.
To get the free trade agreement, China said it was willing to voluntarily limit textile exports to South Africa.
"Given that China has made this seemingly generous offer, it will be difficult for SA to lay down conditions," said Business Day. "And government is not about to erect massive trade barriers for the industry."
The government of Zimbabwe, isolated on the international scene because of its autocratic government, has touted the coal mining agreements as a sign that China's foreign policy of "non-interference" will foster greater economic ties. But SouthScan, a London-based news site about southern African, questions "whether the deals will actually go through."
Despite the diplomatic niceties, China is "avoiding Zimbabwean risks like the plague," says the Financial Gazette in Zimbabwe. "Given what happened during the wildcat farm invasions under the controversial fast-track land reform exercise, China does not trust that Zimbabwe will uphold bilateral investment protection agreements."
When Wen visited Zambia, Post commentator Aubrey Chindefu decried "the manner most of these Chinese investors treat African workers." The locals have not forgotten a deadly accident at a Chinese-owned explosives factory in Zambia last year.
The politics of China's assistance became clear in the Congo after Wen announced China was giving the African Union $3.5 million to support its peacekeeping mission in Darfur. The African Union peacekeeping mission has proven ineffectual and the international community now favors a more robust U.N. mission to pacify the war-torn region.
But China is nothing if not persistent. In its bid for business, Beijing will host a summit meeting of 40 African nations this November.
washingtonpost.com's Kevin Dumouchelle provided research for this column.
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