"We in China take great pride in our friendship with the African people," said Hu Jintao, President of the People's Republic of China, in a speech given in February at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. The forum, Enhance China-Africa Unity and Cooperation To Build a Harmonious World, was called in an attempt for China and South Africa to pledge to develop ties from a strategic perspective. Chinese and African populations combined make up one-third of the world's total population. Despite the distance between them, China and Africa have enjoyed a history of friendly exchange towards one another, including supporting one another through national liberation. In 2006 at the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the Chinese and African leaders unanimously agreed to establish and develop a new type of China-Africa strategic partnership featuring political equality and mutual trust, economic win-win cooperation and cultural exchange.
Chinese interests in Africa are not new. Reportedly, six hundred years ago, Zheng He, a Chinese navigator of the Ming Dynasty, headed a large convoy which sailed across the ocean and reached the east coast of Africa four times. For more than one hundred years in China's modern history, the Chinese people were subjected to colonial aggression and oppression by foreign powers and went through similar suffering and agony that the majority of African countries endured. The end of the Cold War also heightened China's interest in the continent. According to Chris Melville of opendemocracy.net, "after the PRC was founded in 1949, the new state based its relations with the developing world on a defined doctrine, the " five principles of peaceful coexistence"; it also used its own legacy of colonial aggression and experience of liberation to forge links with the African nation-states emerging from colonial rule". More than 60% of African timber exports are now destined for east Asia; 25% of China's oil supplies are now sourced in the gulf of Guinea region. Reportedly, China has subsequently been well in advance of the G8 by cancelling $10 billion of the debt it is owed by African states; at the second Sino-Africa business conference in December 2003, China offered further debt relief to thirty-one African countries, as well as opening the prospect of zero-tariff trade.
Amidst growing concerns that the world may stand on the brim of it's third world war, and that the realization of full-blown globalization may follow, the U.S. is realizing that it may have been sleeping on the possiblity of African relations and friendships, as opposed to suppression and rule. Drew Thompson of The Jamestown Foundation wrote that "China maintains friendly relations with most African nations, particularly nations that the U.S. has limited contact or diplomatic leverage over, such as Libya and Sudan. If President Bush seeks to address U.S. national security interests around the world, promoting social, political and economic development in Africa will have to become a significant priority for the administration". America and friends may benefit in estimating that their perception of a successful and convenient Africa led by democracies and the rule of law is being challenged by the growing Chinese influence in Africa.Top leaders from Kenya, Liberia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe are visiting Beijing and securing further investment and economic assistance. In January 2006, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing's trip to six West African nations—Cape Verde, Senegal, Mali, Liberia, Nigeria, and Libya— was accompanied by the release of "China's African Policy," an official Chinese government paper aimed at promoting economic and political cooperation as well as joint energy development without interfering in each other's internal affairs.
Although the efforts at unity and the consideration of the denegrated continent at first seem smart, and even noble of the People's Republic of China, is it possible that China in Africa may result in the same colonial rule, that's remnants still have the continent lagging behind in world economies? After all, didn't the Mid-Atlantic slave trade with the west begin as just a "business" stemming from "friendly" expeditions from Western explorers? The Heritage Foundation's Peter Brookes wrote in China's Influence in Africa: Implications for the United States, that in the 1960s and 1970s, Beijing's interest centered on building ideological solidarity with other underdeveloped nations to advance Chinese-style communism and on repelling Western "imperialism"." This reality presents an issue of possible governmental influence, that may accompany the burgeoning friendships, and may consequently end in further "Cold-War" type occassions throughout the continent. With Democracy whispering in the West ear, and Socialism in the East, the challenge is then that the countries of Africa dig deeper than the omission of debt, the gifts of arms, the shaking of hands, and the dedications of world summits in making friends. Africa's great abundance in natural and human resources are of no secret to the world. It is for this reason that the continent has suffered for so long from the results of global interests, and most specifically, colonialism. Africa then, must realize the power in her numbers and jewels, place her guard up as far as her bruised hands can reach, and realize that there are always bargains made in the game of friends.