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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006, 21:16 GMT
Africa-China meet means business
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrives in Beijing
China is eager to cement cultural and economic ties with Africa
China has laid on the red carpet for dozens of African leaders as it hosts a summit to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations with the region.

But the background for the meeting is the rapidly expanding trade ties between Africa and China, worth $42bn (22bn) last year.

China needs Africa's rich supplies of natural resources and raw materials to fuel its surging economy.

In return it invests in African roads, railways and other infrastructure.

Deals to be made

At least 45 African heads of state are expected in Beijing for the three day event starting on Friday, and local officials have said up to 2,500 separate business deals could be under discussion.

Many of them will revolve around China's hunger for African mineral resources, particularly oil.

China imported 38 million tonnes of crude oil from the continent in 2005 and has made major investments in oil and gas projects in countries including Kenya, Angola and Nigeria.

The US and the European Union have expressed concern that China has been doing business with repressive regimes in countries such as Sudan.

Graph of trade between China and Africa

But some analysts have said it was 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.

"As a late entrant to the international oil game, China has little choice but to strike deals with the so-called rogue states," said Zhongxiang Zhang, an energy specialist at the East-West Centre think tank in Honolulu.

Infrastructure projects

There have also been criticisms of 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.

Table of Afro-Chinese trade

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.

"It has helped to correct the chronic undervaluation of African economies," said Razia Khan from Standard Chartered bank.

"Its involvement has also given global investors cause to take a closer look at the continent and that can only be good news."

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