Beijing, Africa to step up energy co-operation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 November, 2009, 12:00am

China will enhance energy co-operation with Africa over the next three years, forming a key plank in its engagement with the continent as Premier Wen Jiabao prepares to hold talks with African leaders in Egypt.

The news comes as a Ministry of Commerce official yesterday denied Beijing's involvement in a controversial US$7 billion mining and oil deal with Guinea, which has been criticised for bankrolling the violent military junta that rules the West African state. Wen will attend the two-day China-Africa summit on Sunday and Monday and is expected to roll out a three-year plan on China's future engagement with the continent.

'In the next three years, China will mainly enhance co-operation in areas that can boost both sides' economic growth, including energy, infrastructure, industry and agriculture,' Vice-Minister of Commerce Chen Jian said.

'And we will also focus on helping Africa to achieve self-sufficiency and improve its people's livelihood.'

New investment deals and assistance measures are expected to be sealed during the two-day summit, the second of a three-yearly event first held in Beijing in 2006. But the Commerce Ministry and the Foreign Ministry did not comment on the deals yesterday at a press briefing.

Wen would be accompanied by Minister of Commerce Chen Deming and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi when he set off on Friday, Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun said. Wen would hold talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, Zhai said. Wen will also visit the Arab League headquarters in Cairo.

An action plan and a declaration on Sino-African co-operation would be issued at the summit, Zhai said.

'The summit will be used to evaluate progress of the eight measures announced by President Hu Jintao at the 2006 summit, and to map out the co-operation plan for the next three years,' Zhai said.

In 2006, Hu pledged to provide Africa with US$5 billion of preferential loans and credits, call off debts by African countries, and create a US$5 billion fund to entice Chinese investment in the continent. Yang told Xinhua on Sunday that all these promises had been achieved.

China has long hailed Africa as a close 'brother' whose political support was crucial in diplomatic areas such as its admission to the United Nations in 1971. The relationship has expanded on economic and investment fronts as China's economy flourished in recent decades.

Bilateral trade volume reached US$106.8 billion last year, a 10-fold increase from US$10 billion in 2000. Chinese investment in Africa reached more than US$5 billion last year. Approximately one third of China's oil imports come from Africa.

China came under fire after it emerged last month that the China International Fund (CIF), a Hong Kong-listed company, signed a US$7 billion deal with Guinea.

Under the deal, which is worth almost twice the country's GDP, Guinea would reportedly trade mining and oil resources for loans for infrastructure projects. This immediately renewed criticism of China's ties with African countries with unpopular governments or poor human rights records. In September, Guinea's soldiers shot dead up to 157 demonstrators and raped women in public, the Associated Press reported.

Amid the criticism, Zhai said yesterday that the central government had not been involved in the CIF deal.

Similar criticisms were made over China's close engagement in African nations including Sudan and Zimbabwe. Some critics branded Beijing's approach as 'neo-colonialist' - buying up raw materials from Africa to fuel its economic growth and then dumping cheap Chinese-made products on the continent, leaving Africans out of work.

Chen said yesterday that China's investment in Africa had been mutually beneficial.

Professor Shu Yunguo, director of the African Study Centre at Shanghai Normal University, said the new measures to be announced at the summit would focus on improving African peoples' livelihoods as China sought to improve its relations with ordinary people.

Big spender

Chinese investment in Africa last year was more than, in US dollars: $5b