The year of 2006 marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of China-Africa diplomatic relations and a new stage in the development of bilateral ties with a series of political and cultural events running through the year.
Notable among these events are the publication of the China's Africa Policy at the beginning of the year, visits by Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao to 10 African countries in April and June respectively and the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation held last month and participated by leaders of 48 African countries, most of them presidents or prime ministers.
Parallel to the political development are the increasing bilateral trade and cultural exchanges.
Old friends, new partnership
The summit adopted a declaration, proclaiming the establishment of a new type of strategic partnership between China and Africa featuring "political equality and mutual trust, economic win-win cooperation and cultural exchanges."
The enduring friendship between China and Africa can be traced back to five decades ago when Egypt became the first African country to establish diplomatic relation with China.
In 1971, China resumed its legal status in the United Nations largely due to support from the developing world, including many African countries. Also thanks to the long-time adherence to the one-China principle by those countries, the attempts by the authorities of Taiwan -- an island province of China separated from the mainland after a civil war in the 1940s -- to join the United Nations have ended in failure 13 times since the 1990s.
At the same time, China has in the past five decades provided aid to 53 African countries with no political conditions attached and has helped African nations build nearly 800 complete sets of projects even during the period when China itself was in economic difficulties.
During his visit to Egypt in June, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said that China "feels indebted to" the African people. "We should never remember the benefits we have offered nor forget the favor received," Wen quoted an old Chinese proverb as saying.
In recent years, with the rapid economic development of both China and the African continent, the interaction between the two sides, which used to center on political sphere, is featuring cooperation in various areas, including the economic field.
Building upon historical experiences, the two sides have translated the political gains into an economic advantage with increasing Chinese investments of capital and technology in Africa, which help unlock the African continent's vast resources and potentials.
"In recent years, thanks to the joint efforts of the two sides, China-Africa relations have, building on traditional friendship, made new progress, which finds expression in enhanced political relations and closer cooperation in economy, trade, culture, education, and other fields," said Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan in a recent exclusive interview with Xinhua.
Also the two peoples are showing increasing interest to better know each other, which they used to get familiar with only from textbooks.
The number of Chinese tourists to Africa reached 110,000 in 2005, doubling that in the previous year. Meanwhile more Africans have paid visits to the Asian giant country.
Besides trade and economic investment, China also took active measures to make itself better understood by the African people.
According to China's Ministry of Education, it has established educational exchanges and cooperative relations with more than 50 African countries. It has also set up six non-profit Confucius Institutes in six African countries to teach Chinese language and culture.
In the Action Plan for the Sino-Africa cooperation in the next three years announced at the summit, China pledged to increase the number of Chinese government scholarships to African students from the current 2,000 per year to 4,000 per year by 2009.
Immanuel Ngatjizeko, Namibian minister of trade and industry, during an interview with Xinhua, has said that it is a delight to see the close bonds between the two peoples.
"I see many Africans now learning the Chinese culture and language, and also Chinese nationals learning African languages and marrying Africans. This is a good development for our people to embrace and internalized at personal and family levels the political, economic and bilateral achievements and legacy of cooperation of our political leaders," he said.
Win-win economic cooperation
As a pivot for the new strategic partnership, economic win-win cooperation has dominated the closer relations between China and Africa, of which the most visible sign is the booming trade and investment flows.
Between 2000 and 2005 trade between China and Africa has increased from just under US$10 billion to nearly US$40 billion, and it is predicted to surpass US$50 billion in 2006 and more than double by 2010. Fifty years ago, bilateral trade was only US$12 million.
China is rapidly becoming one of Africa's main sources of investment. By the end of 2005, China has established more than 800 enterprises in Africa involving a total investment of US$6 billion. It has signed investment agreements with 28 African countries and its engineering projects covered construction, petrochemical, power, culture, education, health and food processing sectors.
China's economic rise and in particular its contribution to the increase in the global demand for resources such as aluminum, steel, nickel, copper, oil and gas has immensely contributed to Africa's importance as a provider of these resources.
Meanwhile, cheap Chinese imports are a blessing for many African countries while the gradual opening-up of the Chinese economy is providing opportunities for African companies, particularly those from South Africa.
However, China's economic rise has also created fear and suspicion particularly among those countries that previously used to enjoy unfettered market access for consumer and industrial goods in a majority of international markets, where they have been edged out by Chinese made imports.
Some skeptics claim that China's interest in Africa is driven by self-interest and that its closer economic and trade ties with Africa would lead to a kind of "neo-colonialism."
The allegation, however, has been repeatedly refuted by both Chinese and African leaders.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has said that "the hat of neo-colonialism simply doesn't fit China."
He said in developing relations with Africa, the Chinese government adheres to the principle of mutual respect, equality, mutual benefit and non-interference in each other's internal affairs. And concerns about a so-called "Chinese threat" in Africa were inaccurate and irresponsible.
"China has established friendships with many countries in Africa, and is opening itself up to Africa, coming with assistance. It is cooperating with African countries on an equal basis without any desire to colonize Africa," said Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
"We hold that the establishment of a new type of strategic partnership is both the shared desire and independent choice of China and Africa, serves our common interests, and will help enhance solidarity, mutual support and assistance and unity of the developing countries and contribute to durable peace and harmonious development in the world," said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, when delivering the declaration at the Beijing summit.
(Xinhua News Agency December 8, 2006)