Counting the Cost

China: A new colonial power?

We examine the BRICS, the deals, the critics and whether China can shape a new world order.

It was 599 years ago that Admiral Zheng – in a show of Chinese power – sailed down the east coast of Africa. The year was 1414, and he took home with him – a giraffe.

Today, China is more interested in oil and gas off the cost of Mozambique and Tanzania, and it has been welcomed with open arms as it lavishes its wealth across the continent.

China’s new president, Xi Jinping, went on an eight-day visit to Africa, including the BRICS meeting of the rising powers Brazil, Russia, Indian, China, and South Africa in Durban.

Xi started in Tanzania and also went on to the Republic of Congo. In Dar es Salaam, he signed agreements to build a major port and industrial zone worth $10bn.

Trade between Africa and the BRICS combined accounted for $340 billion in 2012. That is estimated to hit $500bn by 2015, almost 60 percent of which will be solely China-Africa trade.

Together the BRICS are formidable – with combined foreign-currency reserves of $4.4tn with 43 percent of the world’s population.

But what is their endgame? Can there be partnership without plundering? Is China a new colonial power, or just misunderstood?

Nigeria’s Central Bank governor Lamido Sanusi said, in a Financial Times op-ed piece

“China takes from us primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism.”

His sentiment clearly resonated with other leaders on the continent, like Pravin Gordhan, South Africa’s finance minister.

“Ultimately it’s about saying that if we are true partners in this process let’s help each other to get onto an even footing, let’s ensure that we aren’t in a position where some of us are commodity exporters and others are value adders to those commodities. I think over the last three or four years those voices are becoming louder.”

Lynette Chen, the CEO of the African Union’s development agency (NEPAD) is joining us from Johannesburg to discuss China’s and BRICS’ role in Africa.

It is no suprise that two of the world’s fastest growing economies, India and China, are vying and in some cases working together on buying up oil and gas reserves.

From Uganda to Mozambique, the search for oil and gas has accelerated, with some massive finds.

Mozambique is estimated to have 150 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves, which is – according to Reuters – enough to supply the world’s number one gas importer Japan for more than 30 years.

In Tanzania, there is an estimated 33 trillion cubic feet of gas; and in Kenya, there was a recent find by oil company Tullow of 23 billion barrels of oil – about $2.6tn worth.

Is there a huge windfall coming East Africa’s way? Why has it taken such a long time to find these deposits? Is it just a case of old sources running dry, so the exploration has to increase?

Counting the Cost discusses with Aaron D’este, the CEO of Vanoil Energy, a Canadian company that operates in places like Kenya and Rwanda.

Also on CTC: Vodafone – we speak to the man who runs the world’s second-biggest mobile phone company to ask what he makes of the euro crisis. Is Vodafone on the path to a windfall from the sale of Verizon?

Plus, Nepal, noodles, and a billionaire. Perhaps not the most expected of combinations, but it is for real, and it has been enough to get one Nepalese man onto the Forbes magazine rich list!

Al Jazeera’s Subina Shrestha went to Kathmandu to explore the story of the country’s first billionaire.


Watch each week at the following times GMT: Friday: 2230; Saturday: 0930; Sunday: 0330; Monday: 1630. Click here for more Counting the Cost.

Follow Kamahl Santamaria @KamahlAJE and business editor Abid Ali @abidoliverali