China says it is negotiating as many as 2,500 trade deals with some 40 African nations ahead of a Sino-African summit in Beijing next week. China is looking to the continent as a source of energy, new markets and investment opportunities.
The three-day Forum on China Africa Cooperation is planned for November 3. Bringing together more than 40 African heads of state and about 1,500 delegates, the size of the summit reflects the importance that energy-hungry China is placing on its relations with resource-rich Africa.
Beijing last year drew more than 38 million tons of oil and is increasingly turning to the African continent for the raw materials China needs to fuel its booming economy.
Vice Minister of Commerce Wei Jianguo told reporters in Beijing Thursday trade between China and African nations rose 10-fold from 1995 to 2005. He says it is expected to exceed $50 billion this year - much of it in oil purchases from nations such as Sudan, Libya, Angola, Nigeria, and Equatorial Guinea. Angola has overtaken Saudi Arabia as China's largest source of crude oil.
After the briefing, Wei told VOA a vast number of trade deals are the works ahead of the summit.
Vice Minister Wei said that while he cannot say what the cumulative value of the agreements is, he said it will be a large quantity. When asked how many agreements are under discussion, the vice minister said around 2,500.
Unlike with the U.S. or the European Union, China buys from Africa far more than it sells. Aside from oil, China purchases large quantities of raw materials, agricultural products, and fish. African nations, in turn, buy manufactured products, electronics, and appliances from China.
Critics accuse China of investing irresponsibly in Africa, lending money to corrupt governments without preconditions, ignoring human rights violations and neglecting environmental standards.
But China's Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun on Thursday rejected the allegations.
"We cannot accept this criticism," he said. "You should know that we adhere to the principles of peaceful coexistence, the most important of which is to not interfere in other nations' internal affairs. We believe that by developing trade cooperation with other countries, especially with African countries, we are benefiting their development."
International news reports this week quoted World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz as criticizing Chinese banks for ignoring rules that require lenders to ensure that borrowers comply with social and environmental standards.
Among the nations of Africa, at least five still officially recognize Taiwan as a national government and do not have diplomatic relations with Beijing. Chinese officials on Thursday said they had extended invitations to those nations as observers, but had not received replies.