President Hu Jintao only gave one formal speech during his 12-day, eight-nation tour of Africa, which ran until early February, but he used the opportunity to stress that China would never impose "its will or unequal practices" on Africans.
Apparently stung by suggestions that China’s rampant pursuit of energy reserves across the continent amounted to "neo-colonialism", Hu’s speech at the University of Pretoria in South Africa was an attempt to allay concerns about China’s "no political strings attached" handouts.
Certainly, the goodwill began before the president had even touched down in Cameroon on January 30. China announced that it would write off debts owed by 33 African countries as part of a promise made last year to boost the continent’s development.
As he worked his way from Cameroon through Liberia, Sudan, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique and the Seychelles Islands, Hu handed out loans and grants and signed a number of deals intended to boost Sino-African trade.
Wherever he went, though, criticism followed. The European Investment Bank warned that aggressive lending by China would force up African debt levels. Meanwhile, the international community was also outspoken in calling on China to leverage economic ties with Sudan to persuade the government to accept UN peacekeepers in the conflict-ridden Darfur region.
There is also resentment from some of the African countries themselves. Trade unions in South Africa have been mobilizing to defend the local textile industry, which they claim has seen 100,000 job losses due to the flood of cheap Chinese imports.
These concerns are shared by clothing manufacturers in Zambia, where nascent anti-China stirrings have been driven to greater heights by the low wages and poor safety records of Chinese companies operating in the country.
Despite announcing an US$800 million investment in Zambia’s copper mines, a visit to a Chinese-run mine where 50 local workers died in an explosion two years ago had to be canceled amid fears of protests.
Money can’t buy everything, it appears.