China: Unfair to criticise Africa oil plans

Chinese officials accused the United States of double standards on Wednesday for criticising China’s oil investments in Africa, and insisted the country had a positive role to play in the continent’s development.

China’s booming energy demand and Africa’s bountiful oil resources are mutually beneficial, the officials said, ahead of a China-Africa forum to be held in Beijing next month.

China has been criticised for investing in or aiding countries such as Sudan, under fire over its human rights record, often in return for access to oil and gas supplies, but an official rejected those accusations.

Zhang Yuqing, deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission’s energy bureau, said that after state-owned oil giant CNOOC withdrew a bid to buy US producer Unocal in the face of fierce political opposition, the United States seemed not to want China investing anywhere.

“If we can’t invest in the US then where would investment be more appropriate, do they think?” Zhang said. “US companies can look for oil in China.”

Thirsty for oil and raw materials, China has poured billions into African countries blessed with mineral wealth, building on a legacy of goodwill from its support of independence movements in the 1960s and 1970s.

Western governments have criticised Beijing for failing to attach demands for transparency and accountability to offers of aid, trade and investment extended to some African governments, particularly oil producers Sudan and Angola.

Anxiety in Africa

Xu Jinghu, deputy director of the Foreign Ministry’s African Affairs Department, said China also wanted stability in Africa.

“China completely supports African countries in preserving political stability, human rights and establishing democracy,” Xu said, adding that Chinese United Nations peacekeepers had been active in Africa.

“But we stand by one principle—not interfering in other countries’ internal affairs,” she said.

“The world is very diverse, and we should trust that all regions, countries and people best understand their national situation and that they have the right to solve their own problems.”

China’s increasing role in Africa has been equally controversial on the continent itself.

South African trade unions have said ultra-cheap Chinese textile imports are costing local jobs, and China’s investments in Zambia, particularly its copper mines, became a focal point in this month’s Zambian presidential elections.

“Textile exports have risen quite a bit in recent years, but not in quite the scary way the media has reported,” said Zhou Yabin, vice-director of the Commerce Ministry’s Western Asian and African Affairs Department.

“The Chinese government understands and sympathises with pain this may have caused in Africa,” he said, adding China had given money for African companies to increase their competitiveness.

And China has another, diplomatic reason for focusing on Africa. Some of the fewer than 30 countries in the world which still have official relations with self-ruled Taiwan, which China considers its own, are in Africa, like Burkina Faso and São Tomé and Príncipe.

Xu said China had invited delegates from the five African countries with no formal ties to Beijing to come to the forum as observers though did not yet know if they would attend. - Reuters

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