Tuesday, February 17, 2009

China gives "largest gift" to West Africa

China’s President Hu Jintao has been on a tour of Africa this past week, and he’s been playing Santa Claus along the way.

While in the West African nation of Mali, Hu announced China’s largest-ever foreign aid gift in that part of the world - a mile-and-a-half long bridge across the Niger River in Mali’s capital Bamako that will eventually cost China about $76 million to build. At the ceremonial groundbreaking Hu said the bridge will help improve trade and was a sign of the close relations between Mali and China.

It’s another symbol of China’s deep interest in the continent. In recent years China has been giving out barrels of foreign aid to countries all across Africa. Of course so have the United States and countries across Western Europe, the difference with China’s aid though is that it comes with no strings attached. Western countries have used packages of foreign aid and debt relief to promote governmental reforms among the nations of Africa - things like committing to open elections, a free press and transparent budgeting processes. Tying aid to reform has had a positive effect in a number of nations in Africa, helping them to address long-standing problems like corruption.

Chinese aid has no conditions attached. And as such has also been the foreign aid of choice with some pretty sketchy regimes, like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and those fine folks (accused of genocide) in Sudan. All this cash flowing has helped China to build trade relationships with a series of African nations, relationships that supply China with all sorts of raw material it needs to feed it's manufacturing base - oil, copper, even rare earth minerals needed to make computer components.

It's been suggested that Hu took his trip to Africa at this time, and has been spreading around aid (like bridges in Mali) to reassure China’s new friends that the aid train will keep rolling even as the world’s economy slows down.
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