Africa turns to China for role model

Updated: 2007-04-15 10:06

Africa is increasingly turning not just to the West, but eastward to China for financing to help its economic development, and as a role model in combating the continent's poverty.

Trade links between fast-growing economic powerhouse China and Africa have taken a leap forward since 2004, when President Hu Jintao announced a drive to strengthen relations with the continent -- the world's poorest despite being rich in energy and minerals.

"Clearly we all have a lot to learn from China," Liberian finance minister Antoinette Sayeh said at a news conference in Washington on Saturday. "China has made more progress than anywhere in the past few decades in combating poverty."

African nations are embracing China with open arms, and international lenders like the World Bank are talking with the Chinese about working together there.

"Ghana, Uganda, Mozambique, Tanzania -- these are countries that have pretty good economic management and in those, the World Bank is interested in working with Chinese partners," David Dollar, World Bank China country director said. 

Dollar said the World Bank was interested in working with the Export-Import Bank of China in some African countries to help finance infrastructure projects like the construction of roads and power plants.

China, A Good Partner

China announced in January it would lend Africa US$3 billion in preferential credit over three years and double its aid and interest-free loans. Signs are that there is more to come.

Over the next three to four years, Zambia expects Chinese firms to invest US$800 million in a new economic development zone near a Chinese-operated copper mine, Zambia's finance minister Ng'andu Magande said on Saturday.

The zone will include facilities for copper processing and for the production of cables for export back to China, and likely other markets including the United States, he said.

China's growing role could also point to a longer-term shift in the global pattern of trade, African officials say.

"Historically the pattern of trade has been north/south, but we think the east/west, or south-south axis can be a good complement to this," said Rama Sithanen, finance minister of Mauritius.

In 2006, trade between China and Africa reached US$55.5 billion, a jump of 40 percent on the previous year.

Africa's relative openness to Chinese investment contrasts with a wary attitude in the United States, which relies heavily on China to finance its large trade deficits but has so far shown resistance to Chinese attempts to buy US companies.

In 2005, CNOOC was forced to withdraw a US$18.5 billion takeover bid for US energy firm Unocal Corp., due to heavy opposition from lawmakers who accused the deal could threaten US national security and violate rules of fair trade.

Zambia's Magande said Africa had no such concerns, and that the partnership between the two nations was based on long-term mutual interests.

"It's not a military issue and it's not a political issue. It's a development issue," said Magande. "China is a good partner."

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