Upcoming Summit Highlights Africa's Importance to China

Posted in Africa | 03-Nov-06 | Author: Adam Wolfe

This weekend, 48 African heads of state will attend the third ministerial conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (F.O.C.A.C.) in Beijing. The three-day event is being billed as the largest summit China has hosted in modern history, and Beijing has even invited leaders from the five African states that recognize Taiwan to attend as observers. The summit will host 1,700 delegates, including representatives from private companies and international organizations. The motivations for hosting the extravagant event are clear: China is seeking to diversify its access to natural resources, shore up diplomatic support for Chinese initiatives at the United Nations and other multilateral organizations, and develop markets for its exports.

In many ways, the summit will be a celebration of China's success on all three of these initiatives since F.O.C.A.C.'s founding in 2000. This success has increasingly drawn concern from the West, and competition for access to African commodities has been fierce. In the lead up to the summit, the G7 and World Bank have been critical of China's lending practices to Africa. Similar reactions can be expected to follow the celebration in Beijing. In the long-term, however, China's competition for resources may develop into cooperation on security issues.

Sino-Africa Relations

Fifty years ago, Egypt became the first African country to change its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China. This led China to invest in several ideologically motivated infrastructure projects and investments as it pursued diplomatic relations with the rest of the continent. While this bore diplomatic fruit, Beijing's interest in Africa waned in the late 1970s as it focused on rebuilding its domestic economy.

China's rapidly expanding economy fueled its interest in Africa again in the late 1990s. Since 2000, two-way trade has grown from US$10 billion to an expected $50 billion this year. China is Africa's third largest trading partner, behind the United States and France. Oil accounts for a large portion of this trade, as Africa provides one-third of China's oil imports. This is a trend that is likely to continue since China will become more dependent on oil imports in the coming years.

According to customs records, China imported a record volume of oil in September, the latest month for which figures are available. While this may have been in part due to the country's attempts to build emergency stockpiles of oil at a time when oil prices have fallen off from their peak, it is also representative of a trend of rapidly growing demand for foreign oil in China. In 2000, China imported about 4.5 million barrels of oil per day (bpd). In 2006, this figure will likely surpass seven million bpd.

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