April 24, 2006

China’s Hu tours Africa to boost expanding ties

By Tom Pfeiffer

RABAT (Reuters) - Chinese President Hu Jintao kicks off the
African leg of a world tour in Morocco on Monday, boosting
already booming ties to a continent rich in the energy and
minerals his country needs to feed a fast-growing economy.

China's Africa drive first moved up a gear when Hu visited
Gabon in 2004, lending impetus to business links in a campaign
that raised both hopes and hackles far beyond African shores.

"Africa's trade links are shifting from the global 'north'
to the global 'east'," wrote British analyst Christopher
Clapham, referring to China's purchases of African commodities
and its sales to the continent of manufactured goods.

"Chinese need for raw materials to feed its new industries
has transformed the fortunes of African primary producers."

"(But) there is a downside to this development: Africa's
own industrialization can scarcely be encouraged by the flood
of cheap goods available from Asia," he wrote.

In 2004, China's total exports to Africa hit $13.82
billion, up 36 percent over the previous year while imports
surged 81 percent to $15.65 billion, according to Chinese

Some analysts say China's push has given Africa a bigger
role in the world economy, displacing what many Africans call
an unequal and debilitating relationship with Europe that has
dominated the continent from the slave trade era to the

Critics say, however, that beneath the diplomatic veneer,
access to raw materials is paramount for China, and concern for
good governance or social welfare counts for nothing beyond the
demands of a stable environment in which to extract resources.

A case in point is Sudan, where China's trade and oil
interests have induced the permanent U.N. Security Council
member on several occasions to provide diplomatic cover for the
government accused by many of war crimes against its own

Africans with long memories argue that Europe, and in
particular old colonial power Britain, forfeits any moral high
ground in the debate because of its past record of business
links with South Africa under apartheid white minority rule.


Morocco might seem an odd first stop for Hu, given that it
is the only North African country without any oil, and that
China's aggressive push into the European clothing market has
dealt a blow to the kingdom's vital textile industry.

But China accounts for a growing share of the world trade
that Morocco wants to draw through a new port and industrial
hub to open next year in the northern city of Tangier.

The project is part of a plan -- backed up by a raft of
free trade deals -- to position Morocco as a competitive trade
and manufacturing base on Europe's doorstep.

"Because of this position China can in the near future
think about using Moroccan territory as a step toward new
avenues of exports to Europe and the United States," said
Tajeddine el-Husseini, a Moroccan international economic law

China-Morocco trade rose by almost a third to $1.5 billion
in 2005, with China selling textiles, home electronics and tea
and buying semiconductor equipment, fertilizers and seafood.

Morocco is also trying to double tourist numbers to 10
million by 2010, by when an estimated 100 million Chinese
tourists are expected to holiday in foreign countries.

El-Husseini said the talks may also cover Taiwan and
Western Sahara, issues respectively of concern to China and

China wants to head off Taiwanese diplomatic efforts, while
Morocco is likely to lobby China to support its plan to grant
limited autonomy to the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

Hu will meet Morocco's King Mohammed at his palace in the
capital Rabat and sign trade, cultural and medical agreements.
Later in the week he is due to fly on to Nigeria and Kenya.