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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 September 2007, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
China opens coffers for minerals
Copper miners in DRC
Copper is just one of the many sought-after minerals
China has signed a deal to loan the Democratic Republic of Congo $5bn to develop infrastructure and mining.

Infrastructure Minister Pierre Lumbi said the money will be spent on building roads, hospitals, health centres, housing and universities.

In exchange, China will get rights to DR Congo's extensive natural resources, including timber, cobalt and copper.

A recent study concluded that China's main interest in Africa is to guarantee supplies of raw materials.

This is the largest single loan to any African country of the $20bn that China has pledged to finance trade and investment in the continent over the next few years.

A first phase of $3bn will finance big transport infrastructure projects in the DR Congo, including a 3,400km (2,125 mile) highway between the northeast city of Kisangani and Kasumbalesa on the border with Zambia.

DRC map showing Kisangani and Lumumbashi

There will also be a 3,200 km (2,000 mile) railway to link the country's southern mining heartland to the main Atlantic port of Matadi in the west.

Additional plans provide for the construction of some 30 hospitals, more than 100 health centres and two universities.

A further $2bn is earmarked for rehabilitating the crumbling mining infrastructure and setting up joint ventures in the mines sector.

The state mining conglomerate Gecamines went bankrupt in 1990 and since then there has been a free-for-all that sees hundreds of giant 36-wheel trucks plying the roads each day, carrying mineral-rich ores across the border to Zambia.

But some analysts argue that the return on China's apparently-generous loan is likely to cost DR Congo dear.

New partnership with Africa

The official Xinhua press agency recently estimated there are at least 750,000 Chinese working or living for extended periods on the continent, a reflection of burgeoning economic ties that reached $55bn in trade in 2006.

Chinese trade and investment has galvanised mineral production from South Africa (manganese) to Niger (uranium), and from Sudan to Angola (oil).

Much of that activity reflects an intense appetite for the African resources needed to fuel China's manufacturing sector, but big Chinese companies have quickly become formidable competitors in other sectors as well, particularly for big-ticket public works contracts, like the ones now proposed for DR Congo.

Chinese road workers in Africa
Chinese workers are engaged in dozens of African road-building projects

China is building major new railroad lines in Nigeria and Angola, large dams in Sudan, airports in several countries, and new roads almost everywhere.

One of the largest road builders, China Road and Bridge Construction, owned by the Chinese government, has 29 projects in Africa (many financed by the World Bank or other lenders) and offices in 22 African countries.

So China's money may be going to Chinese companies to provide these big projects.

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