China has rolled out the red carpet for about 40 African heads state and government who are expected to attend the six-day China-Africa summit which opens this week in Beijing. The meeting is expected to be the largest gathering of African leaders organized by a foreign power with no colonial ties to the continent.
VOA’s English to Africa reporter James Butty says this week’s China-Africa summit comes in a year that Chinese leaders have called for a new strategic partnership with Africa. He quotes Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, professor of political science at Amadu Bello Univeristy in Nigeria, as saying China-Africa relations have existed for years.
"I think what has tended to hide it in the past had to do with the Cold War. But with the end of the Cold War, things seemed to be a bit clearer. But there’s a new dimension to it. China is certainly an emerging power, and China is ready to invest in areas western companies and governments are not willing to invest in Africa, especially in the development of infrastructures. And I think this is one of the attractions," Mohammed said.
Sulayman Nyang, director of African studies at Howard University in Washington, describes China’s relationship with Africa today as the second coming of China to the African continent.
"This time around the Chinese are coming with some disadvantages, but with great pluses to their credit. One is China is much stronger, more self-confident, and the Chinese have also created an image for themselves. Chinese image has changed radically from the red dragon of communist days to the new white hen that lays the golden egg for certain Western enterprises. So there’s a new alliance brought about by globalization, and this plays out in very strange ways. And Africa therefore becomes a very interesting playground for the Chinese during this second coming," he said.
Professor Nyang says how African countries benefit from this new China-Africa relationship will depend on how their leaders negotiate their individual relations. But he says in the final analysis, the new China-Africa relationship will be a win-win relationship.
US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer says the United States is not concerned about China hosting a gathering of African leaders and developing its Africa policy. But she hopes Africa’s agenda of democracy and fight against corruption are not lost at the conference.
"We would hope in that conference that the African countries emphasize their own commitments to the principles of their New Partnership with Africa’s Development [NEPAD], principles that focus on holding the countries accountable for human rights, holding them accountable for governance, and holding them accountable for transparency," Frazer said.
Professor Mohammed agrees. But he says while it is true that China may not focus on human rights and democracy in its relationship with Africa, the United States and its Western allies have done the same in their past relationships with Africa.
"The US, the UK in the past have been known to deal with dictators in Africa. In fact they’ve propped them up. So it’s interesting that they are now lecturing Africans to be wary of countries that do not take those into consideration," Mohammed said.
Professor Nyang says the reality of China’s new strategic interest in Africa today is purely economics. He says the US administration and all other Westerners interested in doing business in Africa must increase their competitiveness.
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