President Xi to target energy and raw material supplies on African visit
President's visit to three countries will bolster historical links, but will also target supplies of energy and raw materials for China's producers
President Xi Jinping's visit to three resource-rich African countries is part of a strategy to secure valuable supplies of energy and raw materials to fuel China's manufacturing sector.
And while highlighting Beijing's historical links with the continent during his first overseas trip as head of state, he will also be reaching out to one of the world's largest untapped consumer markets.
Xi arrived in Tanzania on Sunday before scheduled trips to South Africa and the Republic of Congo. Also on the agenda was an appearance at an emerging-economies summit in Durban, South Africa.
He Wenping, director of the Africa Research Office at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of West Asian and African Studies, said the visit was an indication of Beijing's increasingly prominent role in Africa.
She said: "The decision is in line with Chinese diplomacy, which attaches great importance to cementing ties with developing countries, the emerging economies, while seeking to promote what is called South-to-South co-operation."
Former president Hu Jintao oversaw a deepening of relations with the continent, visiting three countries in 2004 and hosting a summit of 48 African leaders in Beijing in 2006.
Kerry Brown, executive director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, said Xi's visit would encompass both politics and business.
He said: "The main goal of Xi's visit is to continue building the immense networks of allies and investment interests there."
He added that the relatively stable political atmospheres in the African countries Xi is visiting, compared with other countries on the continent, undoubtedly played a significant role in Beijing's decision to target them first.
"The countries that Xi is visiting are the easier ones - no Zimbabwe or Somalia, at least at the moment," Brown said.
In the past decade, Sino-African trade has ballooned, reaching US$166.3 billion in 2011. China became the continent's largest trading partner in 2009.
The value of China's various investments in Africa exceeds US$40 billion, of which US$14.7 billion is direct investment.
Last year, Hu offered US$20 billion in loans to African countries over three years as part of a "no-strings-attached" aid policy.
Amid global competition for rapidly dwindling oil supplies, Beijing is well aware of the importance of investing in Africa to secure supplies of energy and raw materials.
For many Chinese manufacturers, Africa is also a ready market for exports that are now not so welcome in many western countries.
Low-quality, cheap textiles, electronics and other products produced for rock-bottom prices in China have a ready-made market in impoverished African countries, most of which have poor manufacturing bases of their own.
As China aggressively seeks new markets and looks for new sources of energy and raw materials, its involvement in Africa is the subject of debate among countries on the continent and in the international community.
International organisations also criticise Beijing's financial help to Africa, raising issues such as environmental damage and human rights abuses.
Some critics have even labelled Beijing a "neo-colonialist".
Jin Canrong , associated dean of Renmin University's School of International Relations, said Africa is increasingly becoming a new battleground for influence between China and the United States.
"Both the US and China need a continent that is rich in resources and that is an untapped consumer market of nearly 1 billion people," Jin said.