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‘Oh Boy! So Many Questions!’ About China in Africa

Wednesday 17 April 2013

By DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW

BEIJING — As President Xi Jinping of China continues his first overseas trip as his country’s leader, arriving in South Africa late on Monday after Russia and Tanzania, he meets with much goodwill – but also some concern among Africans that China may be a “new colonial power,” extracting resources and selling manufactured goods, as I reported on Sunday.

China knows it. In a speech in Tanzania, Mr. Xi sought to calm the concerns, as my colleagues Chris Buckley and Jeffrey Gettleman reported.

“China frankly faces up to the new circumstances and new problems in Sino-African relations,” Mr. Xi told an audience of Tanzanian politicians and officials in Dar es Salaam, the country’s economic hub and a center of government, speaking in a conference center built with Chinese loans and support. “China has and will continue to work alongside African countries to take practical measures to appropriately solve problems in trade and economic cooperation so that African countries gain more from that cooperation,” he said, in an apparent nod to those concerns.

But Tanzania’s president, Jakaya Kikwete, appeared less worried about it than Mr. Xi. In an interview with Chinese reporters, he said China was no different from any other major power in Africa, and questioned the intense interest in the topic, China Radio International reported.

“Why when we have relations with the others there is no problem?” Mr. Kikwete asked, apparently rhetorically. “But when we have relations with China, oh boy! So many questions!” he continued in the interview, which took place just before Mr. Xi’s arrival on Sunday.

Tanzania looks “for investments, technology, markets and development assistance,” said Mr. Kikwete, adding: “This is all we are getting from China. Our relationship with China is about that. With the U.S. is about that, with Europe is about that, with Japan is about that, with India is about that. So if the issue is neo-colonialism then it is with everybody,” he said.

“Trade has increased tremendously between China and Tanzania,” he said. “And also, I agree with you, that China sells more to Tanzania than what Tanzania sells to China. This is something that we need to change. But how do you change that? We have an acute supply-side constraint. There is so much we can do but we cannot do it now because our major constraint is investment.”

China’s trade with all African countries, including North African nations like Libya and Egypt, reached nearly $200 billion in 2012, an increase of more than 19 percent from 2011, according to Chinese government figures. Oil, ore and other commodities from Angola, Nigeria and other resource-rich countries make up much of that. Trade unions and manufacturers in South Africa, Nigeria and other countries have said China’s relatively cheap manufactured goods are a threat to their jobs and long-term growth, as Chris and Jeffrey reported.

“China takes our primary goods and sells us manufactured ones,” Lamido Sanusi, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, wrote in The Financial Times this month. “This was also the essence of colonialism.”

On his trip, Mr. Xi has sought to counter the view of China as a new colonial power in Africa. Before his departure from Beijing last Friday, Xinhua reported that Mr. Xi’s “China Dream” of prosperity was one that could be shared by the whole world. Including Africa.

In South Africa this week, Mr. Xi will attend a summit meeting of the “BRICS” emerging countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. His final stop will be the Republic of Congo, before he returns to Beijing on Saturday.

Copyright 2013 The New York Times Compan

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