China rides the Africa Express

Aid and trade top the booming relationship between China and Africa.

China President Hu Jintao visit Africa

African nations are eager to roll out the red
carpet for visiting Chinese leaders [EPA]

As Hu Jintao, China’s president, begins a 12-day, eight-nation tour of Africa, Al Jazeera’s Beijing correspondent looks at the booming relationship between China and Africa.

Complete with electric guitar riffs over a bubbling drum beat, Africa Express on China Radio International is how China gets its message to Africa.

Wei Tong, the show’s host, says his African audience love the programme because, “it gives them a deep understanding about China-Africa cooperation, such as business cooperation and cultural exchanges.”

The subject of today’s show is trade.

In an African cafe on the other side of Beijing Haile-Kiros Gessesse, the Ethiopian ambassador to China, chats with a friend and businessman, Guo Dong.


Hu Jintao’s 12-day Africa tour takes him to eight countries, including:

Cameroon,  Liberia, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Seychelles, Sudan

Guo has been doing business in Africa for more than 20 years, and recently trade between the two countries has ballooned to over $40 bn a year.

For China trade with Africa is all about resources.

“Every year China needs about 3 million tons of cotton imports,” says Guo. “By 2010 we’ll need 6-7 million tones. So what we need are better imports from Africa.”

Naturally the Ethiopian ambassador is keen to attract more Chinese trade, and not just for the dollars it brings in.

“Whatever they buy, they buy in huge quantities,” he says. “Whatever they sell, they sell at a price that is affordable and the technology is appropriate. When you compare this to the West it’s the other way around.”

Drilling rights

Whatever they sell, they sell at a price that is affordable and the technology is appropriate”

Haile-Kiros Gessesse,
Ethiopian Ambassador to Beijing

But the real force driving for the trade is mineral resources – specifically, oil.

Africa now provides China’s booming economy with a third of its oil.

China has paid billions of dollars for drilling rights and shares in some of the continents biggest oil companies, all to ensure that the petrol pumps back home don’t run dry.

Some accuse China of turning a blind eye to human rights when it comes to oil deals, but others like the Ethiopian ambassador think those views are just sour grapes.

“The relationship of Europe and the western countries with Africa is a colonial relationship,” Ambassador Gessesse says.

“Colonial masters milking Africa is going to be stopped by cooperation of Africa and China.”


Already the relationship is bearing fruit. Road construction deals with Chinese companies have opened up formerly inaccessible parts of the continent.

Medical aid and cooperation in areas like anti-malarial medicine have led some to suggest that mutually-beneficial trade with China probably offers Africa a faster and more reliable route out of poverty than handouts from the west.

Many developing nations feel their interests and needs can only really be understood by another developing nation.

Hence why so many African countries will be rolling out the red carpet to welcome the Chinese president eager for Chinese trade and aid.

Although China has a significant lead over Africa in the race for development, many countries on Hu Jintao’s itinerary will be hoping he can give them the means to catch up.

Source: Al Jazeera