China once again highlighted its commitment to Africa in May, hosting the annual meeting of the African Development Bank (AfDB), held for the first time in Asia, and promising billions in debt relief.
It was only the second time the AfDB had gathered outside its home continent and the two-day meeting brought over 2,000 people from 53 African and 24 non-African nations to Shanghai.
The event brought renewed focus on China’s motives for assisting Africa but Premier Wen Jiabao insisted that it was about more than just the continent’s oil and minerals. China has canceled US$10.9 billion in African debt and plans to write off another US$10 billion as well as spend US$20 billion on infrastructure and trade financing over the next three years. The country’s contributions are much larger than the US$7 billion pledged by Africa’s traditional donors.
Perhaps in response to the unusual level of praise for its role in Africa, Beijing took the opportunity to get more involved in individual policies.
On May 10, China unveiled Liu Guijing, a former ambassador to Zimbabwe and South Africa, as special envoy to Darfur in Sudan. He is China’s first special representative on African affairs.
Here again, the move followed some criticism. In a letter sent to Beijing the day before, the US House of Representatives called on China to be more active on Darfur, which is being torn apart by genocide. The letter warned that a failure to respond could have a negative effect on the Beijing Olympics as "history will judge [China’s] government as having bankrolled genocide."
China buys two-thirds of Sudan’s oil exports and is said to have sold the government weapons and military aircraft.
Beijing’s commitment to Africa was tested in late April when nine Chinese oil workers were among 77 killed in an attack on a remote oil exploration site in Ethiopia run by Sinopec’s state-owned parent. Another five Chinese were taken hostage and released a week later.
Separatist group the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) claimed responsibility and the Chinese hostages were quickly released. But an ONLF spokesperson said Chinese "are turning into colonialists."
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