Aid Sparks Concern

China says its motives in assisting Africa are purely altruistic.

2011-04-26
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africaaid305.jpg Chinese President Hu Jintao and Malian President Amadou Toumani lay a bridge foundation in Bamako, Feb. 13, 2009.
AFP

China has hit out at accusations that its burgeoning foreign aid to Africa is driven only by its hunger for natural resources, saying Tuesday that it helps poorer countries out of solidarity.

China has made significant sacrifices in trying to help African countries lift themselves out of poverty, including the deaths of more than 700 Chinese workers in aid projects, vice commerce minister Fu Ziying told a news conference in Beijing.

He added that China could increase its assistance to foreign countries to "an appropriate extent" as its national strength grows, according to official media.

Beijing has invested billions in the forms of foreign aid loans into the development of crucial resources like oil and mining in African countries.

African countries were on the receiving end of nearly half of China's total donor aid to foreign countries, which reached a cumulative total of 256.3 billion yuan (U.S. $39.3 billion) by the end of 2009, according to a government white paper issued earlier this month.

Seeking resources

But analysts say the Chinese presence in African countries is largely driven by political and strategic imperatives like energy security and a growing presence on the world stage.

A vice-chairman at the U.S.-based Finemay International Investment surnamed Mei said China's motivations for investments in Africa—many of which are made through state-owned, Party-controlled conglomerates—are multifaceted.

"The figures for last year already came out, and they show that all China's commercial investments overseas made a loss," Mei said. "Not one was in profit."

He said that overseas investments by Chinese enterprises aren't made solely for commercial reasons.

An investment adviser surnamed Ding at an investment company based in Washington D.C. agreed.

"For China, this is a trade-off," Ding said. "China can sell cheap goods at knock-down prices to African countries, and in return, the African countries sell resources to China."

'A relationship of profit'

Ding said China's laissez-faire attitude on democracy and human rights has made it a more attractive partner to many African countries whose political regimes gave pause to Western donors and investors.

"Western countries put humanitarian aid and investment into African countries too," Ding said.

"But ... some African countries aren't very happy with them because the U.S. tends to focus on improving human rights, and always wants them to move to a more democratic system or at least to a more transparent sort of society."

"With China, it's purely a relationship of profit. So a lot of the African dictatorial regimes are very willing to have dealings with China," he said.

Ding said African partners are also willing to support China in the United Nations.

"This means that China can wield a much stronger influence internationally on issues like human rights, such as the issue of North Korea," he said.

Decades in Africa

China's growing presence as an investor and aid donor around the developing world has sparked concerns particularly over labor rights and safety issues at some its overseas business operations.

Chinese vice-minister Fu said that less than 30 percent of total oil exports from African countries currently go to China and that the Chinese also work in African countries with few natural resources, such as Mali.

He said China's assistance to Africa dates back at least four decades, pointing to the Tanzania-Zambia Railway, which links east, central, and southern Africa and was financed by an interest-free loan of about U.S.$500 million from China between 1970-75.

According to the white paper, China has provided a cumulative total of 256.29 billion yuan (U.S. $38.54 billion) in aid to foreign countries, in the form of grants, interest-free loans, and concessionary loans.

By the end of 2009, China had offered aid to 161 countries and more than 30 international and regional organizations, it said.

Reported by Shi Shan for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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