BEIJING Feb 10 China's quest to show it is a
responsible power in grim economic times moves to Africa this
week, where President Hu Jintao will seek to both reassure and
temper hopes of aid and investment.
After a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia beginning on
Tuesday (see story [nPEK172330]), Hu goes to Mali, Senegal,
Tanzania and Mauritius -- all offering opportunities for
growing China but none ranked among Africa's economic and
Trade between China and Africa rose to $107 billion last
year, and Hu's choice of smaller destinations appears designed
to show China's interest reaches beyond oil and mines, said Zha
Daojiong, an expert on energy diplomacy at Peking University.
(See factbox on Sino-African ties [nPEK226907].)
"The itinerary appears intended to show that we treat all
the African countries, big and small, equally," said Zha.
"There's also the implicit message that China's relationship
with Africa isn't solely defined by resource and energy
Hu and his officials are nonetheless sure to announce
investment and aid deals, in a show of support for African
economies shaken by the global slowdown.
Chinese leaders have said their economy will continue to
grow this year, giving some hope that China will help pull
other markets out of the slump. That message was reinforced by
Premier Wen Jiabao during a recent high-profile European trip.
The four African countries hosting Hu are not resource-rich
and "would be eager for Chinese infrastructure investment",
said Jeffrey Herbst, an Africa scholar at Miami University in
Adding lasting substance will be more difficult since the
global downturn is also straining Beijing's commitment in
Hu -- who has made building ties with Africa a feature of
his foreign policy -- must convince his own officials and firms
that staying in Africa makes sense despite woes at home. He
must also temper African expectations of unfettered investment
"There are anxieties in Africa. People who work in the
mining sector have been quick to point out that the Chinese
companies were also withdrawing and suspending production,"
said Christopher Alden, an expert on Sino-African relations at
the London School of Economics.
HU LIKES AFRICA
The six-day Africa sojourn may also allow Hu, rarely
without a dark suit and noncommittal gaze, to let down his hair
Footage from his visit there last year showed him unusually
cheery, smiling and buoyant among welcoming locals.
Hu's commitment to Africa appears to reflect his belief
that the continent offers a friendly stage to show the wider
world that China's growth and international policies are a
In 2006, Hu promised a summit with African leaders of a
leap in investment, trade and aid. At the G20 summit of big
developed and developing economies last November, he raised
Africa's needs during the global economic turmoil.
Trade between China and African countries has surged by an
average 30 percent for much of the past decade, driven by
China's appetite for oil and minerals, and its sales of
clothes, cars, telecommunications and other goods to African
But nearly all of Africa's exports to China come from a
handful of countries rich in oil or minerals. And now that
resource-driven motor for closer ties has collided with the
global economic downturn.
Once avid Chinese investors have pulled out of mines in
Africa, Herbst and another expert, Greg Mills, wrote in a
"The (commodity) price decline, and the subsequent Chinese
response, will probably cause African leaders to recalibrate
their perspective on what they can expect from Beijing in the
years to come," they wrote.
One Chinese expert on relations said the government's aid
promises have also brought mismatched expectations.
"There are agencies within the government feeling a bit
burdened by African demands for China to live up to its
promises," said the expert, who demanded anonymity for
discussing internal matters.
Beijing is coy about disclosing aid numbers. One scholar,
Carlos Oya of the London School of Economics, has estimated
China's aid to Africa at $500 million to $800 million a year.
The United States' gave Sub-Saharan Africa $5.6 billion in
aid in 2006, and the European Union and its member states gave
26.4 billion euros ($34 billion) in aid to Africa that year.
(Additional reporting by Lucy Hornby, Editing by Dean Yates)