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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 July 2007, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
China in Africa: Developing ties



By James Reynolds
BBC News, Hangzhou, eastern China

Huayou factory processing African cobalt and copper
China hopes to become Africa's biggest trading partner by 2010
A dozen workers carrying metal poles stand in a factory warehouse.

Several wear camouflage caps on top of their blue uniforms.

A forklift truck heads towards them and drops off a huge white bag full of dust, minerals, and rocks. The workers pierce the bag, then hoist it onto a pile.

During the afternoon, they stack up dozens of bags onto a pile of hundreds more. The white bags contain copper and cobalt shipped in from Africa.

'Minerals equal stability'

The Huayou company processes the raw materials and then sells them on to other Chinese factories.

Africa is full of opportunities - it's just like China when we started opening up a few years ago
Li Xiao Dong
Huayou manager

"China is hungry for minerals and Africa has rich reserves of cobalt and copper," says Li Xiao Dong, who runs the factory.

"Africa is full of opportunities - it's just like China when we started opening up a few years ago."

Africa's minerals are vital for China. For the Communist Party the bags of minerals stacked up in the Huayou factory warehouse mean social stability.

China has a billion people who want a better life. They want to buy TVs, cars and fridges.

China simply does not have enough natural resources of its own to meet their needs.

So, in order to keep its people happy and stable, it has to get its raw materials - oil, copper, zinc, cobalt - from abroad. And Africa has what China needs.

'No strings attached'

Inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, a dozen Communist Party officials face rows of African businessmen and ambassadors.

Products made from African raw materials in a Chinese superstore
Chinese shops are full of products made from African minerals

The African delegates sit to the left of a portrait of Chairman Mao.

The officials on stage each cut a thick red ribbon. Everyone applauds - including those who cut the ribbon.

This is the launch of a new project, the China-Africa development fund, designed to promote Chinese investment in Africa.

Chinese trade with Africa has been growing by 50% every year. Right now, it is worth $50bn (25bn). By 2010, China will have overtaken the US and France as Africa's biggest trading partner.

The Communist state offers trade with no strings attached.

China appears to follow a simple rule: If you are an African country and you have a raw material that China wants, then China will do business with you, no matter what the West thinks of your government or your human rights record.

"In recent years there has been a rapid rise in co-operation between China and Africa," says China's Commerce Minister Bo Xilai in a speech to his African guests.

"This fund will drive China's investment in Africa to everyone's benefit," he says.

Superstore

You can see why China's trade with Africa matters so much by going to the Orient Home superstore in Beijing.

The shelves are full of products made from minerals that come from Africa - door handles, pipes, stoppers, locks, plugs, wires, cables, kitchen taps.

"I bought a bathtub," says one shopper at the checkout, "I don't care where the material comes from, so long as it's good quality."

Importing from Africa keeps China's shelves stacked; it fuels China's economic boom; and it keeps this country's consumers happy and quiet. The ruling Communist Party wants everything to stay this way.



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