- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2008

BRUSSELS — China depends on trade and investment with Africa to maintain double-digit econ- omic growth year after year, according to analysts who view the growing partner- ship as a threat to Europe and the United States.

One of the touchiest issues involves human rights and environmental agendas pursued by the West, which frequently lead to restrictions that do not apply to Beijing.

The problem goes beyond troubled areas such as Sudan’s Darfur region, with some economists warning that China-Africa ties pose long-term consequences for the U.S. and European Union interests.

“It’s pure economics,” said John Fox, an analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations. “China has been investing in infrastructure and roads, which the EU and the U.S. haven’t been doing for years.”

China invested $11.7 billion in Africa in 2006, up 40 percent from 2005, says the multilateral African Development Bank.

Overall trade between China and the continent has increased 60-fold, since 1990, said Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Center for International Political Economy, an economic think tank in Brussels.

The growing interdependence links the greatest source of untapped natural resources, Africa, with the world’s biggest pool of labor, China with 1.3 billion workers.

Africa already provides about one-third of energy-hungry China’s oil imports and is a major reason why the emerging economic superpower in 2007 posted its fifth consecutive year of double-digit economic growth.

“China’s own economic growth has … forced it to accelerate engagement with Africa pretty much across the board,” Mr. Erixon said.

The 27-nation EU was made suddenly aware of its diminishing role in Africa during the latest round of trade negotiations at an EU-Africa summit in December, when it was fiercely rebuffed by a majority of African nations.

At issue were the terms of the EU’s proposed Economic Partnership Agreement, which would have lowered tariffs on agricultural products but severely restricted, almost to the point of barring, the export of industrial goods to Europe.

“The EU overplayed its hand in trade negotiations,” Mr. Erixon said. “They pushed Africa into China’s hands. They just asked for too much. They demanded reforms from African nations that they would never be able to do.”

Phil Bloomer of the British aid group Oxfam was even more critical of the European Union.

“The so-called Economic Partnership Agreement being negotiated between the EU and its former colonies, are about anything but partnership,” Mr. Bloomer wrote in a newspaper column at the time.

“They are harsh reciprocal trade arrangements that demand that some of the poorest countries in the world open their markets to EU goods, in some cases almost overnight,” he wrote.

The EU also demanded several environmental and regulatory reforms that would have significantly increased Africa’s production costs, further curbing its ability to make money with industrial exports.

An editorial article by Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua called the proposed agreement a mere upgrade in words of the “traditional master-subordinate relationship between Europe and Africa.”

Some of the poorest and most aid-dependent African countries, including Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia and Lesotho, have since signed the agreements.

But many, including South Africa, continue to refuse.

“It would be an unacceptable limit on our sovereignty,” Rob Davies, South Africa’s deputy trade minister told the Inter Press news agency.

In contrast, Chinese deals are purely driven by the bottom line.

“China never imposes its own will on African countries, nor interferes in the domestic affairs of African countries,” the BBC quoted a Chinese official in Ethiopia as saying.

China’s approach is not without its costs, especially damage to its image ahead of the summer Olympics in Beijing.

On Tuesday, Hollywood mogul Steven Spielberg resigned as an artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics because of Darfur, where thousands have been killed and millions displaced in a civil war.

China buys about two-thirds of Sudan’s oil exports and sells weapons to Sudan’s Islamist government.

“China has nurtured connections with … rogue states for a long time,” Mr. Erixon said. “China doesn’t demand any corruption [reduction] or human rights reforms. The non-interference policy applies as long as they can see results from the investments that they are making.”

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