Wednesday, September 16, 2009

West write off African debts, China make deals

The Central African Republic's president François Bozizé Yangouvonda wrapped up a week long visit to China recently and flew back after signing what China's state news agency called "agreements on economic and technological cooperation". The African nation is rarely talked about in western media but it is one of a growing number of African states doing business with China. President Bozizé must have felt particularly delighted as he returned home to find that not only had he made significant moves in strengthening economic, trade and technical cooperation with China, but that the the Paris Club of sovereign creditors had declared they had cancelled almost all of the $59.3 million debt owed by the Central African Republic. 

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation, Switzerland, Britain and the United States took part in the debt deal which leaves the small country with a population of around 4 million with a virtually clean slate. But while it is the west who have bailed out the C.A.R. it is China who are reaping the rich resources from a country rich in gold, diamonds and more notably uranium. 

Uranium is of course not mentioned in any Chinese state media report. But it is clear discussions were held over how China might secure this precious metal. Not only will it provide China with a rich power source, but it will also help in bolstering its nuclear capability. 

 It was President Bozizé's first state visit to China since he won the presidential election in May 2005. But the visit passed by completely unnoticed in the western press. In China, even visitors to Beijing's Tiananmen Square last weekend were puzzled by the unusual flag hung alongside the five stars flag, or the flag of the People's Republic of China. The multicoloured flag might well have been taken as being connected with   the upcoming National Day celebrations. The flag consisting of four horizontal stripes or blue, white, green and yellow intersected by a central vertical red bar and a star striking out at one corner, fluttered in the wind. But few realized its significance.

China has being building strong ties with many African nations. Drawing copper resources from Zambia, iron ore from the Gabon to oil from Angola. There is barely a state across the continent not supplying China's development programme. In 1995 the imports and exports between the two continents barely hit $2 billion. By 2005 that figure had grown to around $20 billion in both imports and exports. And it is rising year on year. 

It is clear tat China sees Africa as important. Chinese President Hu Jintao speaking during Bozizé's visit, said, "China attaches great importance to the friendship with Central Africa, and we are willing to work with Central Africa to create a new era for our bilateral ties." But as to the real substance of cooperation, the details are rarely explained. Xinhua, China's state news organisation, often seen as just a propaganda mouthpiece for the government, is often vague and ambiguous. 

Anyone familiar with the tern Newspeak, as described in the novel 1984 by George Orwell, will see similarities with the way stories are often reported by Xinhua. The reports talk of "personnel and cultural exchanges and cooperation" and efforts to "build platforms for expanding cultural, educational, sanitary, media and non-governmental exchanges, so as to deepen mutual understanding and develop friendship." 

 The rhetoric spoken by politicians is often empty and in China the same is true. "China and Central Africa are friends as well as friendly and cooperative partners," Chinese president Hu said. It has always been the Chinese government's persistent policy to develop long-term, stable, friendly and cooperative relations with Central Africa on the basis of sincerity, equality and mutual benefit, Xinhua also quoted him as saying.

There were few if any comments from Bozizé himself. Xinhua merely stating the Central African president "fully agrees with Hu's notion." With $59.3 million in debt reduced to $3.7 million by the West and with lucrative deals made with China, President Bozizé was probably very happy to agree.

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