[CNN] Xi in Africa as China’s role comes under scrutiny
By Katie Hunt, for CNN
March 25, 2013 — Updated 0848 GMT (1648 HKT)
- Xi in Africa for 8-day visit to Tanzania, South Africa and the Congo Republic
- Trade between Africa and China totaled $200 billion in 2012
- Chinese have built infrastructure in exchange for natural resources like oil
- Some African leaders have expressed unease about uneven trade relations
Hong Kong (CNN) — China’s President Xi Jinping’s tour of Africa on his first official overseas trip underscores the strategic importance of the continent’s oil and mineral resources for the world’s second biggest economy, but local leaders are asking whether the relationship has benefited Africa as much as it has China.
Xi arrived in Tanzania on Sunday and will stop in South Africa to attend a summit of the BRICS countries on Tuesday and Wednesday before finishing his trip in the Republic of Congo, from where China imports oil to fuel its economic growth.
“It shows that he is going to put Africa very high on the agenda during his reign and points to the deeper and deeper relationship between Africa and China,” said Adams Bodomo, African Studies director at Hong Kong University.
A lot is at stake: Trade between Africa and China totaled $200 billion in 2012, according to Chinese state media, and the country is Africa’s largest trading partner.
Africa is already a major source of natural resources for China and with African economies now some of the world’s fastest growing, it’s also an emerging a marketplace for Chinese-made goods.
“China values the development of Africa as great opportunity to boost its own growth, and vice versa,” said China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei.
China’s newly installed leader will want to build on these economic ties, but Xi will also likely have to address concerns among African leaders about the uneven nature of trade relations.
Africans have welcomed China’s no-strings investment as a counterbalance to Western aid that is usually conditional on reducing poverty, stamping out corruption or introducing democratic reforms.
But African leaders, including Botswana President Ian Khama and Nigerian central bank governor Lamido Sanusi, have begun to question to what extent Africa has benefited.
“Cracks are appearing in this China-Africa relationship,” said CNN Beijing and former Africa correspondent David McKenzie.
“There’s a sense from Africans that it’s not an equal relationship. That China is extracting oil and then in return building infrastructure projects with its own companies and own workers and not necessarily transferring the skills to African workers.”
Xi signed trade and cultural agreements in Tanzania on Sunday and is due to give his first policy speech on Africa in Dar Es Salaam, the capital, later on Monday.
He will then fly to the South African city of Durban to attend theBRICS summit — which groups Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — where plans to create a multinational lender to rival the World Bank will be discussed.
Gratitude for Chinese investment in Africa has also been tarnished by a number of scandals, including the distribution of fake and poor quality anti-malarial drugs made illicitly in China and themistreatment of workers.
“It is time for Africans to wake up to the realities of their romance with China,” Sanusi wrote in an editorial in the Financial Times this month.
“China takes out primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism.”
Botswana’s president recently told a South African newspaper that Chinese companies had let down his country, particularly over a power generation project. Khama added that other African leaders shared his concerns.
But Hong Kong University’s Bodomo, says claims of neo-colonialism are overblown and that China’s influence “was more positive than negative.”
According to Xinhua, 85% of the staff employed by the more 2,000 Chinese companies operating in Africa were Africans.
“In 10 years, China has built a lot more infrastructure than, for example, Britain did in my own country — Ghana — for 100 years.”
CNN’s Zhang Dayu and Lucrezia Seu contributed reporting from Beijing