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2014-05-19 18:25:00

CHINA: $2 B FOR AFRICA

CHINA: $2 B FOR AFRICA

China is poised to invest billions of dollars in Africa through a multilateral institution in Beijing's first ever departure from its "cheque book" policy of bilateral deals on the continent.

Beijing and the African Development Bank, the continent's biggest development lender, will this week unveil a $2bn investment vehicle, called the "Africa Growing Together Fund", which officials say marks a symbolic shift from previous Chinese practice.

"China has been using a bilateral route in Africa. Now it is taking a more multilateral [approach]," said an official familiar with the project. The fund will be signed off this week during the annual meeting of the AfDB in Kigali, the Rwandan capital.

The fund appears to be part of a broader effort by Beijing to recalibrate its relations with Africa in response to criticism inside and outside the continent. Li Keqiang, the Chinese premier, acknowledged during his first trip to the continent this month that the relationship between Beijing and its African partners had suffered "growing pains". But he rejected accusations that Beijing was pursuing a neocolonialist policy in Africa.

"I wish to assure our African friends, in all seriousness, that China will never pursue a colonialist path like some countries did or allow colonialism, which belonged to the past, to reappear in Africa," he said. "For China and Africa, co-operation means opportunities, co-operation is win-win," he said.

The new fund will open contracts to the most suitable bidder rather than just to Chinese companies. Western countries have in the past criticised what they describe as Beijing's "cheque book" policy of lending money to African countries to largely benefit its own construction groups, which have built everything from roads to hospitals on the continent.

African officials have also criticised the policy, complaining about the poor quality of some of the Chinese-built infrastructure and the use of migrant labour from China rather than locals.

Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at Chatham House, a London-based think-tank, said China's expanding investments in Africa carried "political headaches" for Beijing. "There are an increasing number of disputes about Chinese companies," he said.

Despite the latest multilateral move, China's bilateral engagement with Africa remains far larger and continues to grow. Mr Li announced during his trip that Beijing would increase its bilateral credit lines to African countries by $10bn, bringing the total to $30bn for 2013-15. Zhang Chun, an expert on Africa-China economic relations at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said Beijing was likely to deepen its multilateral approach. "But [the strategy is] not opposite to past focus on bilateral relationships. It is a parallel approach," he said.

China experts say Beijing is promoting broader and deeper relations with Africa, expanding from an initial focus on oil and other commodities into investment in manufacturing and other industries. At the same time, China is stepping up engagement on security matters, sending soldiers to Mali earlier this year to join a UN peacekeeping mission in Africa. Beijing has also played an active role in peace negotiations in South Sudan.

China-Africa trade has surged over the past decade, reaching $200bn last year, up from $10bn in 2000 and $1bn in 1980, according to Chinese customs data.

ft.com

Tags: AFRICA, CHINA, OIL

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