- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2007

BEIJING - A top official took time out from the annual National People’s Congress yesterday to defend his nation’s aid, trade and investment in Africa, telling reporters that growing economic ties with the resource-rich continent reflect “friendship from the bottom of our hearts.”

“We hear nonstop that China is becoming a new colonialist,” Commerce Minister Bo Xilai said at a press conference.

But what China has done for Africa stemmed from “sincere feelings” and “friendship from the bottom of our hearts forged in past decades,” he said.

Sino-African trade has been growing rapidly to $55.5 billion in 2006, an increase of more than 40 percent from the previous year, according to figures from China’s Ministry of Commerce.

During the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation hosted by Beijing in November 2006, Chinese President Hu Jintao outlined an eight-step program to build a strategic partnership with the continent.

The plan includes establishing a $5 billion China-Africa development fund to encourage Chinese investment, doubling 2006 aid levels within three years, as well as preferential terms for both $3 billion in loans and $2 billion worth of buyers’ credit to African nations in that time frame.

Africa made important contributions to China’s foreign policy during the Cold War heyday of Maoism. Votes from newly independent African states formed during the 1950s and 1960s were instrumental in helping the People’s Republic of China oust the Republic of China on Taiwan from the United Nations in 1971.

Now, Chinese leaders see access to African resources and markets as a critical component for continuing the nation’s economic rise.

African countries account for more than a third of China’s crude oil imports, with Angola its largest single source on the continent.

China has also made big investments in energy-rich Sudan at a time when some Western companies are backing away because of international criticism of the nation’s human rights record.

During an eight-nation tour of Africa in February, Mr. Hu announced China was forgiving $70 million of Sudanese debt and offered a $12.9 million interest-free loan to build a new presidential palace in Khartoum.

Western aid organizations have criticized the Chinese government for hampering diplomatic efforts to stop atrocities in Darfur. They say China’s no-strings-attached approach to African aid abets misrule and corruption.

Mr. Bo said his country accounted for only 8.7 percent of Africa’s total oil exports in 2006 while figures for the European Union and United States were more than four and three times higher, respectively.

“If importing 8.7 percent means exploitation, how about 36 and 33 percent?” he asked.

“Some African leaders believe it is China’s entry and increasing trade with the continent that have helped some African resources show their true market value,” Mr. Bo said. “Things have changed now because Chinese are there doing normal and rational deals and offering reasonable market prices.”

The Ministry of Commerce is responsible for doling out China’s foreign aid. Mr. Bo said his country has helped build 19 schools, 38 hospitals and several stadiums with 760,000 seats in Africa.

“China did all this out of sincerity, as well as the friendly feelings and sentiments it has developed toward Africa over the past decades,” Mr. Bo said.

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