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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 July 2005, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
China takes on growing Africa role
By Jill McGivering
BBC News

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, left, and Chinese President Hu Jintao
Zimbabwe and China have had close ties for decades
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has consolidated his long-standing relationship with China this week, during a high-profile visit to Beijing.

As well as receiving a red-carpet welcome, he has also made progress on a flurry of fresh economic deals.

Mr Mugabe has had a close relationship with China since before Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, and it is now a key part of his "look east" policy.

But that general spirit of co-operation has become more concrete as China has

invested heavily in Zimbabwe, and supplied equipment from buses to jet trainers.

This steady penetration has led to China becoming one of Zimbabwe's leading foreign investors.

Two-way street

Zimbabwe's political isolation has only hastened the process, as President Mugabe's growing alienation from the West has created an economic vacuum that Beijing is rushing to fill.

China's policy of non-interference in the political affairs of others, and a refusal to take other governments to task on issues of human rights and democracy, means it has no qualms about stepping in as other countries withdraw, whether in Zimbabwe or Sudan.

A man adjusts a petrol station sign in China
China needs to feed its growing hunger for energy

In other parts of Africa, China's driving force is energy-based. China is now the world's second largest importer of oil and its demand is growing rapidly.

That surging need, which puts it in direct competition with the US and increasingly India, is shaping friendships with countries such as Angola and Sudan, where China is now investing heavily in return for a stake in either the exports of crude oil or oil production itself.

While the thrust of the policy may be economic, China is well aware of the political gains to be made, too.

In a reformed UN Security Council, key African allies could prove useful to China, especially in opposing motions related to human rights.

China has already helped to cement its relationship with Sudan by blocking UN sanctions relating to Darfur.

It may extend similar support to President Mugabe, as the UN decides what response to make to his controversial policy of slum clearance.

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