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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 January 2006, 05:50 GMT
Energy deals behind Chinese visit
By David Bamford
BBC News

Oil pipeline
China has invested heavily in African oil
The Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing is beginning a week-long visit to Africa during which energy deals will be high on the agenda.

China is increasingly looking to Africa for oil and gas as its economy booms.

But the Chinese are looking too at other African resources - particularly its timber reserves.

In the meantime, there is Western concern that some of Beijing's partnerships are providing a shield for undemocratic and corrupt practices.

Booming economy

There are also fears they could also damage the continent's environment through over-exploitation.

This latest trip to Africa by the Chinese foreign minister is concentrated mainly on West Africa where Beijing's portfolio of activities is growing exponentially.

Li Zhaoxing will be going to Senegal, Cape Verde, Liberia, Mali and Nigeria.

Oil plant in the Niger Delta
African oil has led to booming trade between Africa and China

The relationship between China and Africa has obvious mutual benefits - China is growing fast and needs resources, Africa has them and needs investment to exploit them.

Just this week, one of China's biggest state-run oil corporations confirmed a two billion dollar stake into the Akpo oil and gas field, off the Nigerian coast. This deal, once signed, will rival China's substantial involvement in Sudan's oil industry.

China has also recently moved into petroleum in Gabon, Algeria, Angola and Egypt. African oil is largely responsible for a 40% increase in trade with China in a single year.

And while Western companies hesitate about investing in Africa, China's been mopping up Zambia's copper industry, buying into South African coal and gold, Kenya's mobile phone business, Zimbabwe tobacco, Botswana hotels, and the list goes on.

The United States and Europe are only belatedly waking up to the strategic implications of all this, especially as they too are looking to diversify from Middle East oil.

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