August 25, 2005

The Times

Continent is conquered again
By Jane Macartney in Beijing

CHINA is celebrating the 600th anniversary of the spectacular journeys of Admiral Zheng, a Muslim eunuch who made seven voyages with fleets of 300 ships and 28,000 men that took him as far afield as the shores of Africa.
Today the Chinese are making new journeys to Africa, driven by their almost insatiable appetite for energy and raw materials.
In contrast to the 1960s, when China wooed African nations as part of Chairman Mao’s policy of international revolution and considered itself the Third World’s leader, it is now courting them for their oil. It also wants African support in the United Nations and hopes to lure away those countries that still recognise Taiwan.
Its merchants, tobacco buyers, soybean traders, oil companies, construction workers and diplomats are converging on Africa, and ties have burgeoned since the creation of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation in 2000.
Earlier this year China scrapped £770 million of African debt and lifted certain tariffs on goods imported from 25 of Africa’s least-developed countries. This week senior African officials are in Beijing to discuss China’s large trade surpluses, but countries with oil to sell to energy-hungry China have few complaints.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation agreed last month to sell 30,000 barrels of crude a day to China. PetroChina International submitted bids for two oil blocks in the 2005 licensing opening this month and has expressed interest in taking over the Kaduna Refinery and Petrochemicals in the event of privatisation.
The state-owned China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) has invested £8 billion in oil projects in Sudan, which accounts for 6 per cent of total Chinese imports. CNPC has sent about 10,000 Chinese workers to build a 900-mile pipeline to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. CNPC has interests in Algeria and is involved in building a pipeline in Libya. Angola has become China’s second-largest trading partner in Africa, based on its role as yet another alternative source of energy supplies.
Africa is also an important source of raw materials, such as aluminium and platinum, and China is the biggest buyer of Zimbabwean tobacco. At the same time cheap Chinese goods are pouring into Africa.
Between 2002 and 2003, trade soared by 50 per cent to $18.5 billion — faster than with any other region of the world — and it is expected to surge to $30 billion by 2006. President Hu Jintao paid a highly publicised visit last year to Gabon, an important oil producer.
African leaders also visit China. Eyebrows were raised at a trip there by the Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, to whom few doors are open. China said that, as an elected president, he is welcome.