China defends soaring trade with Africa

China’s trade with Africa is set to top $50-billion this year, officials said on Thursday, as Beijing gears up to host a China-Africa forum that will deepen much-scrutinised investment ties.

China has defended its growing trade ties and its more than $6-billion worth of investments on the continent, whose energy and mineral wealth it covets to fuel its booming economy.

”Chinese investment has promoted economic growth in African countries, increased job opportunities, brought technical applications to African countries and improved living standards for African people,” vice-commerce Minister Wei Jianguo told a news conference.

But resentment has been building, with complaints that the flood of cheap manufactured goods that China exports is damaging local industry and with unrest over labour standards at Chinese-invested companies.

China has been criticised for ignoring human rights and environmental standards and failing to attach demands for transparency and accountability to offers of aid, loans and investment to Africa — particularly to oil producers Sudan and Angola.

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz was quoted this week as saying China and its banks were ignoring human rights and environmental standards when lending to developing countries in Africa.

Angola overtook Saudi Arabia this year to become China’s largest supplier of crude oil, and Chinese energy major Sinopec has offered lavish signature bonuses for oil exploration and production contracts there.

On a seven-nation tour of Africa earlier this year, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao offered Luanda a $2-billion credit line.

China has also come under fire for investing in oil-rich Sudan, whose President, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, was expected to be among the leaders attending the November 3-5 China-Africa ministerial summit in Beijing.

Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun said Bashir and Chinese leaders would discuss the situation in Darfur, where more than three years of fighting has killed more than 200 000 and forced 2,5-million from their homes.

”We believe the humanitarian situation should be improved and we support an active role for the UN in this,” Zhai said.

But he also reaffirmed China’s view that it was wrong to link investment and aid with political conditions, saying: ”It is never our view that a country should interfere in another country’s internal affairs and human rights.”

China’s capital was scrambling to prepare for the delegates from more than 40 African countries to descend on the city.

The use of official vehicles in Beijing will be limited for the period of the forum and elementary and middle school students will finish classes early to lighten the city’s notorious traffic burden, the Beijing News reported.

Beijing will also clear beggars from the streets, and hotel restaurants where delegates dine must report to police to ensure security, the report said. – Reuters

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Lindsay Beck
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