China Hosts African Nations at Beijing Forum

Beijing is hosting a China-Africa forum. The guest list includes over 40 African heads of state. The forum highlights a debate on whether China offers African nations a model for development, or if Beijing is practicing neo-colonialism.

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Here's one more reason that some American experts and officials think the U.S. should care about Africa: China does. Nearly 50 African leaders have turned up in Beijing. They're holding a three-day summit, and they're building on China's long-running effort to build influence on a continent that supplies a growing share of the world's oil.

China faces charges that it gets energy and minerals from Africa while supporting some of its repressive regimes. And we're going to see how this story looks from Africa and from China. And let's begin our coverage with NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Beijing.

(Soundbite of bells ringing)

ANTHONY KUHN: This summit is one of the largest international events Beijing has ever hosted. Pedestrians on Beijing's main shopping street gaze at billboards showing pictures of elephants and giraffes. The material prosperity here is increasingly dependent on Africa's natural resources. Gabonese iron ores, Zambian copper and Sudanese and Angolan oil for example. The trade between China and Africa is expected to top $50 billion this year, up from $11 billion in the year 2000.

Mr. LIO MIGUOA(ph) (Local Merchant): (Singing) (Speaking foreign language)

KUHN: All the African-themed activities remind local merchant Lio Miguoa of a song Chinese kids learned during the 1970s.

Mr. MIGUOA: (Singing) (Speaking foreign language)

KUHN: I'm a black child of Africa, he sings. No sooner has one batch of imperialist thieves left than the next one arrives.

Forty years ago, China under Chairman Mao supported African liberation movements in their struggle against imperialism and colonialism. Today, some critics accuse China of practicing neo-colonialism in Africa, buying up its natural resources and selling them back finished products.

They also accuse China of supporting Sudan's government in keeping U.N. peacekeepers out of its troubled Darfur region. At a press conference here today, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir restated that rejection.

President OMAR HASSAN AL-BASHIR (Sudan): (Speaking foreign language)

KUHN: We have our traditional ways of resolving conflicts in the Darfur area, and we've been doing it this way for years, he said. The conflict this time is due to interference from outside, including from neighboring countries and foreign states, particularly the U.S.

Al-Bashir denied that his government was backing the Janjaweed militias accused of killing civilians in Darfur, and he thanked China for its support.

In its defense, China points to what it's done for Africa in the past 50 years. It's sent 16,000 doctors, it's cancelled debt for 31 African countries, it's built roads, stadiums and power plants, over 900 projects in all. And in recent years it's contributed peacekeepers to at least nine U.N. missions to Africa.

Liu Jianchao is a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Mr. LIU JIANCHAO (Spokesman, Chinese Foreign Ministry): (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: We don't believe that China has done anything wrong by developing friendly cooperation with Africa, he says. On the basis of equality, mutual benefit and mutual respect, we don't know why some folks want to criticize us.

Wong Humi(ph) served as a diplomat in Cameroon and Chad. He's now a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, a government think-tank. He says that China and its African trade partners share similar political views.

Mr. WONG HUMI (Research, China Institute of International Studies): (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: China claims that, unlike Western nations, it offers Africa aid and trade with no political strings attached, but it does expect African nations to help it in the United Nations when other countries criticize its human rights record.

It also expects them not to recognize its diplomatic rival Taiwan. China invited Gambia, Swaziland and three other African nations that still recognize Taiwan to attend the summit as observers. But apparently there were no takers. The summit will last until Sunday, when the participants are expected to issue a communiqué outlining goals for future cooperation.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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