“Jia Qinglin’s trip to Africa,” said Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Zhai Jun “is the first foreign visit by Chinese leaders since the beginning of the Year of the Dragon by the lunar calendar and an important event in Sino-African relations of this period.” He emphasized that “enhancing cooperation with Africa is an important part of Chinese diplomacy, as well as China’s strategic choice in the long run.”
The trip took place in a time when the African countries are experiencing negative effects of the financial crisis and are also “suffering from the turbulence that endangers to peace and stability in the region”, from intervention of a number of external forces in their internal affairs, which impedes the integration process in them, said deputy minister. Jia Qinglin’s visit to Ethiopia was appreciated by Prime Minister of this country, Meles Zenawi. In an interview with Xinhua, he said that the visit indicates that “the African countries and China continue to pursue policies to promote the stable development of relations based on principles of mutual benefit.”
Beijing considers the Sino-African relations of cooperation as “an important cornerstone” of its foreign policy. Jia Qinglin said in Addis Ababa that “the friendly cooperation between the two sides is continuously developing and strengthening. In the new century, China and Africa are making efforts for building a new type of strategic partnership and are reaching all-round development, thus providing effective guarantees of participation in global control and protection of their interests.” Jia Qinglin stressed that “strengthening solidarity and cooperation between China and Africa is of great importance for the cause of peace, stability and development throughout the world.”
At present, China is the largest trading partner of Africa. According to the Ministry of Commerce of the PRC, the bilateral trade volume grew from $12 million in 1950 to $160 billion in 2011. The total amount of Chinese investment in the African economies has exceeded $40 billion, including $14.7 billion of direct investment; more than two thousand Chinese enterprises have invested in the local economy. They execute contracts for building, farm work, and those in mining and manufacturing industry. With the help of China, in the African countries a significant number of schools, hospitals, bridges and other social and infrastructure facilities have been created. Numerous specialists of agricultural profile, physicians, and volunteers were sent from China to Africa. In December 2011 the program was launched to provide the African countries with Chinese low-cost technologies in medicine, agriculture. Chinese public officials emphasize that the increasing interdependence between China and Africa reflects the mutual need for each other as essential markets. According to Deputy Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng, “Chinese products, technology and management experience are the most relevant to the needs of Africa today, when it is at an early stage of industrialization and urbanization.”
Against the background of the increasingly deep penetration of Chinese businesses in the economy of Africa, the Chinese commanding officers’ visits are made on a regular basis and designed to further strengthen Beijing’s position on the continent. China’s president, Hu Jintao alone in 2003 made already four trips to the continent, which is more than the total African trips of former US President George Bush and the present occupant of the White House, Barack Obama. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi visits Africa almost every year. This January he has traveled to Cote d’Ivoire, Niger and Namibia. In the commentary on the occasion of Jia Qinglin’s visit, Xinhua stressed that “Beijing has started another high-level visit to Africa, which should be considered a new manifestation of the increasing importance of time honoured relations between China and this successfully developing continent.”
Beijing’s activity in Africa arouses concern in the West that had until recently looked upon the continent as its own private domain. They gradually lose their positions in the countries that following independence still remain tied to the economy of the former metropolitan. They call China’s actions in Africa economic expansion, believing that it is mainly interested in obtaining resources and cheap energy supplies, and by penetrating the domestic market it displaces local producers.
Beijing traditionally says that in its policy it adheres to the principles of “honesty, solidarity, cooperation and mutual development” and that relations with the African countries are mutually beneficial. Speaking at the summit of the African Union, Jia Qinglin said: “China respects the African countries’ sovereignty and path of development, does not interfere in their internal affairs, establishes cooperation with them on the basis of mutual benefit and win-win results, does not require from the African countries to fulfill certain political conditions in exchange for aid, promotes the development of Africa.”