More than 40 African heads of state and ministers are in Beijing for a summit with China on trade and investment.
China is eager to cement cultural and economic ties with Africa
"We take great pride in China's strong and warm friendship with Africa," said Chinese Vice-Premier Wu Yi at the opening of the conference.
As its economy booms, China's drive to buy African oil and other commodities has led to a big increase in two-way trade, worth $42bn (£22bn) in 2005.
Africa is also a growing market for Chinese goods.
But critics say Beijing is stifling African manufacturing.
Some analysts have said Africa is the only place left to go, as most of the world's other big oil reserves are already being developed by major Western energy companies.
The three-day summit celebrates 50 years of diplomatic relations between China and Africa.
It opens with talks between foreign ministers from at least 45 African nations and China.
But the discussions will primarily be about the rapidly expanding economic ties between the two sides.
Trade between China and Africa has increased tenfold since 1995.
Officials have said that up to 2,500 separate business deals could be under discussion during the summit. Many of them are expected to revolve around China's hunger for African mineral resources, particularly oil.
One of the countries taking part in the summit is Nigeria - Africa's biggest exporter of crude oil.
Some critics have voiced concerns over how Chinese-owned firms are treating African workers.
Protests broke out in Zambia in July about the alleged ill-treatment of workers at a Chinese-owned mine, and there have been reports of pay disputes in Namibia.
China's supporters point to the fact that it has invested billions of dollars in aid, cheap loans and helping to upgrade roads, ports, railways, telephone lines, power stations and other key infrastructure across Africa.
Often, Chinese money is funding projects that Western investors had deemed too risky.
Many economists argue that overall, China's growing economic ties to Africa are benefiting the region.
Meanwhile, the international community has criticised China's attitude towards some African countries: notably, its refusal to criticise Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, and its reluctance to force the Sudanese government to accept UN peacekeepers in Darfur.
But in an interview with the BBC, Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said that accepting China's investment would not mean agreeing with its political standpoint.
"When it comes to certain continental political positions, I think Africa must look at the positions we take, irrespective of what stance China takes, whether it's on Darfur, whatever else, and I think many of us African leaders have in fact taken independent positions that may or may not be consistent with China's own policy stance," she said.
Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf said that her own country was a prime example of an African nation standing up to Chinese policies.
"In Liberia, we're trying to settle our huge debt problem. China wanted to provide some resources on the basis of sovereign guarantees. We said no, we can't take your money on that basis," she said.
In a separate development, Taiwan has called on the five African countries with whom it has diplomatic relations not to attend the summit.
Gambia, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Swaziland and Sao Tome all have links with the island, which China regards as a breakaway renegade province rather than an independent state.
China has said that the five countries are welcome to send observers to the Sino-African summit, though they remain ineligible to join in the Sino-African strategic economic partnership as long as they continue to recognise Taiwan.