New AU HQ marks strong China-Africa ties

2012-01-27 19:38

Addis Ababa - Towering above the Ethiopian capital, cloaked in urban smog, the new Chinese-built African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa is a bold symbol of China's rapidly changing role in Africa.

Once seen as strictly interested in extracting raw resources and investing in infrastructure, China has interests on the continent that are increasingly shifting to investing in institutions and governments, experts say.

"China has always been seen as less good at dealing with regions and continental bodies," said Alex Vines, Africa director of Britain's international affairs think-tank Chatham House.

"The building of the AU secretariat offsets that in a very dramatic fashion," he added.

Construction of the 99.9 metre-tall building was wholly funded by the Chinese government at a cost of $200m. Even the furnishings were paid for by the Asian powerhouse, and most of the construction material was imported from China.

The sleek edifice - Addis Ababa's tallest - will host the African Union summit which gathers African heads of state this week.

The centre is set to be inaugurated on Saturday by Jia Qinglin, chairperson of China's political advisory body the People's Political Consultative Conference.

The building symbolises China's major stake in Africa - bilateral trade between the Asian nation and the continent reached over $120bn in 2011, a jump from less than $20bn a decade earlier.

Beijing's involvement in Africa dates back 60 years, when Chinese workers arrived to lay railways tracks and roads.

Bilateral relations

But there has been a surge in investment in the past 15 years. Until recently, it focused mainly on bilateral relations. The new building suggests a push to foment multilateral links.

According to Vines, it is in China's best business interest to push for stability, especially in the wake of the Arab Spring which saw a collapse of governments across North Africa.

"It's a recalibration of how China sees Africa. I think the Arab Spring, in particular Libya, wasn't anticipated by China," he told AFP from London.

It is also a strategic move on the part of the AU to look outside of Africa and Europe for partnerships.

The death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has meant the loss of major funding for the often short-staffed pan-African bloc.

And China's investment in the AU stretches beyond the construction of the glimmering new AU building. Last December, China pledged $4.5m to the AU's mission in Somalia (Amisom) to fight al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab insurgents.

China is also a major contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Burundi and Sudan according to UK-based civil society group Saferworld.

China's ambassador to Ethiopia and the AU, Xie Xiaoyan, recently said his government's relationship with the AU serves as a central part of the China-Africa strategic partnership.

That partnership was formalized in 2001 with the launch of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, which convenes every three years. At the last gathering in 2009, China pledged $10bn in loans to Africa.

But China views the AU as relatively toothless, according to political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University Jean-Pierre Cabestan.

Major international events

"China has very good relations with the African Union but ... it knows that the African Union is relatively powerless and finds it difficult to make decisions," he told AFP in Beijing.

Construction of the new headquarters kicked off in January 2009, and a team of up to 1 200 Chinese and Ethiopian workers laboured around the clock in two or three shifts to finish it on schedule.

The site boasts three conference centres, a helipad and office space for 700 people. A bronze statue of pan-African leader Kwame Nkrumah, former president of Ghana, is slated to be unveiled this week.

Project co-ordinator Fantalun Michael said the new building allows the AU to host major international events and represents Africa's modernising image. It also signifies China's growing friendship with Africa, he said.

"It's a testimony that this relationship will continue in the future," he said.

But that bond will depend largely on diplomatic relations between China and Africa, not simply on Chinese-built infrastructure, according to Vines.

"In 10 year's time, will there be a fuzzy warm feeling that China built this building? I'm not sure. It will be more about up-to-date relationships and Chinese diplomacy in Addis," he said.

  • Anthony - 2012-01-27 20:41

    Here is another Africa---China "success" story !! If you live in or around Johannesburg, this week-end is your last chance to visit the Bruma Flea Market. As locals, and many from far away, know, over the past 20 years, this market has been built up, by Africans, to a world class Flea Market, specializing in African Arts and Crafts. That was until, last year, a Chinese company bought the ground on which this Flea Market is situated. This market will now be razed to the ground, and a new complex will be built, to......yes, you guessed right, have stores, selling Chinese products!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ask these hundreds of African traders how they been treated by the Chinese, and one realizes the negative impact Chinese investment in Africa can have!!!!

      Lynn - 2012-01-27 22:13

      How very sad. This is wrong. That market has been there for such a long time and allowed people to earn an honest living. Where do they go now. I wonder how good all this Chinese investment really is for Africa. Seems to me that Africa is being colonised again. Wonder when the leaders will realise what they are doing.

      Saksak Motsepe - 2012-01-27 23:41

      But the Chinese are all over that Bruma area so they might as well expand the China town. Who knows, they might buy out eastgate and turn it into one of the mega malls with theme parks inside

      Fidel - 2012-01-28 07:03

      The Chinese are buying real estate everywhere in every country and continent, ask the Brits or the Americans. There is nothing special about China doing business in SA.

  • Fidel - 2012-01-27 22:26

    Ni Hao, Africa will like to thank the people of China for their continued support of Africans dating back to the 60's when you trained our guarillas and armed them whilst fighting for independence from western barbarians. Africans also thank you for affording them an alternative credit line after being bled for years by the neo liberal western institutions like the IMF and World bank who have done nothing for Africans other than benefit from the corruption they have instituted on the continent. We further thank you for all the infrastructural developments your country men have engaged in on the continent and the training you have provided to the locals. There are those who are jealous of your influence because they are not used to competition, they believe that they have a god given right to be succesful.

  • Fidel - 2012-01-27 22:34

    While the western psychopaths are busy dropping bombs in Africa, China is building bridges and they wonder why China is Africa's preferred trading partner. Fools, surrounded by fools......

      Anthony - 2012-01-28 05:33

      @Fidel, That you have to spew out your anti Western feelings in a rather pathethic and childish comment, is your right. But your comment; "There are those who are jealous of your influence because they are not used to competition, they believe that they have a god given right to be succesful" is a disgrace, and an insult to your African brothers and sisters. The Chinese do not understand the difference between competition and fair trade. Again, ask the hundreds of African traders at Bruma, how the have been treated!!!! Chased of the land they have been trading for so many years!! And Bruma is not an exception. The Chinese moto is very clear : PLAIN RUTHLESS GREED !!!!!

      Fidel - 2012-01-28 06:57

      There's nothing anti-western about my posts. Those are all facts. Around 150 Australian mining companies (or ones with a significant Aussie shareholding) are involved in around 500 mining projects in Africa at present. There are probably a similar number of Canadian and UK registered mining companies operating across the continent, and we never hear any nonsense about them being here to colonise Africa. Wal-mart (with all its well published exploitative working conditions) has just acquired a stake in Mass-mart, putting a lot of local businesses out of the way, and again there's no mention of them being here to colonise South Africans (Bruma referrence). All the anti-Chinese rhetoric is begotten by loss of influence to those who have appointed themselves the guardians of Africans. The west had its chance in Africa, but spurned it and now its influence has gone forever.

  • uoxleonard - 2012-01-28 05:39

    Frank is not even African He is a white person from Netherlands, he does not need to comment on what china is doing in Africa. Comment about the silly white staff like classical music or wherever

      Fidel - 2012-01-28 08:58

      "Over the last three decades, a number approaching a half a billion Chinese people have been uplifted out of poverty – the greatest developmental achievement ever. Guided by the state, this reform process has remained relatively consistent despite massive challenges – both internal as well as external. China’s development trajectory has been nothing short of incredible." (Source) How China delivers development assistance to Africa Dr Martyn Davies with Hannah Edinger, Nastasya Tay & Sanusha Naidu "Over the past 60 years, China has achieved phenomenal economic growth and development, purely from its own efforts without having to resort to the colonization and economic plunder of other nations," Mugabe China's position on civil unrest is clear - it is the obligation of the government to better the lives of the people (+- 1.4 billion). If they cannot deliver, then the people will complain. BUT there is another side to the social contract. IF the government and powers that be IS delivering, ala Beijing, then undue disruption is counter to the interest of the people at large (+- 1.4 billion), and SHOULD be quelled so that the entire society can achieve all that they can. Irresponsibility is not freedom!

      Anthony - 2012-01-28 09:39

      @Fidel, Over the past 60 years, China has achieved phenomenal economic growth and development, purely from its own efforts without having to resort to the colonization and economic plunder of other nations," Mugabe Sure, with the economic plunder, Mugabe did not need any outside help, he did a great job himself !!! This is the President of a country, where mothers, tens of thousands of them, left their own kids in care of relatives, than CRAWLED UNDER BARBED WIRE, to get into SA, so to earn some money , to send home, to keep their loved ones ALIVE!!!!!! You got some great heroes !!!!!!

      Fidel - 2012-01-28 09:55

      Can we stick to the debate at hand please instead throwing all kinds of obstacles on the way. I can qoute all kinds of people, even a wrong watch is right twice a day and Mugabe was spot on with that statement. You conveniently disregard the other qoute from professionals who have studied the Sino-Africa relations because they go against your entrenched narrative regarding China. Most men occasionally stumble over the truth, but they pick themselves up and continue on as if nothing had happened.

  • Fidel - 2012-01-28 09:05

    All the people parroting this anti-Chinese rhetoric should acquint themselves with the Sino-Africa relation as outlined by FOCAC (Forum on China-Africa cooperation) document and stop parroting what they read on western media.

  • Vince.York - 2012-01-28 09:24

    Common sense has always dictated "Nothing for Nothing" - so accept that this is NOT MERELY A GIFT, as wondrous at it appears! The huge sacrifice can be equated on value afforded by each chinese:- $200,000,000 1.4Bill chinese Resultant contribution $0.14 from each chinese. The value which will be EXTRACTED will far outweigh this gesture of goodwill, which could easily have been contributed towards by each AFRICAN at $0.23 each African. BUT then reality is that a black claw will never release a single cent.

      Fidel - 2012-01-28 09:47

      You have no idea what this institution will do for Africans other than being guided by your own prejudices regarding anything Chinese and African. There is a wise African saying. "Beware of the outsider who weeps more than the bereaved". Vince, you are weeping a lot!

  • Anthony - 2012-01-28 09:32

    It is not a matter of if the Chinese invest, its under which conditions. There is no doubt, that accross Africa, one would rather work for an American company, than for a Chinese company. But that does not sit well with your anti Western sentiments, so you rather ignore this. The Chinese don't even know how to spell " Fair Employment " It is not a matter of ones who have appointed themselves of "guardians of Africans" , but the ones believe they speak on behalf of Africa and its population !!!!!! Strange, whenever those get stuck in a debate, they "ALWAYS' refer to some ( conspiracy ) web site !!!!!!!!!!!

      Fidel - 2012-01-28 09:42

      The website is the policy outline of the co-operation between the PRC and African states. It is the formal website established by these two regions. FOCAC is a formal institution not dissimilar to African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), which is the US equivalent. Facts Anthony, facts.......Read and stop being a "parrot".

      Fidel - 2012-01-28 09:50

      "There is no doubt, that accross Africa, one would rather work for an American company, than for a Chinese company." Where are all those American companies after US involvement in the continet spawning six decades? Do you see them. The west has been carting away raw materials for over 50 years and lining the pockets of corrupt politicians. The Chinese are building industry and infrastructure and providing much needed training to Africans. There is nothing negative about Chinese involvement in this continent, or the benefits outweigh the cons

      Fidel - 2012-01-28 11:08

      The behaviour of western powers has been nothing short of barbarism in this continent. The French in Central/West and North Africa. The British in the Sub-Saharan Africa. The Portuguese in Mozambique and Angola. The Germans in Namibia? How about the Belgians in the Congo? Has the west behaved in a civilised manner in this continent? Look up the meaning of the word fits exactly the attitude of those who have brought unseen misery to the continent, and then procced to behave as if they haven't done anything wrong.

      Nana - 2012-01-28 19:44

      Anthony, you said " it is not a matter of if the Chinese invest, its under which conditions," and you are right; however, what you need to understand is that, it is not the Chinese obligation to set any conditions but rather the Africa leaders who have to set up conditions in which they want the Chinese to follow. "The maker of a shoe makes it but it is the weare who knows where it pitches"

      Anthony - 2012-01-29 00:51

      @Nana, You are quite right !

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