China says Africa is no one's cheese

Africa is not any country's "cheese" but belongs to the African people, a senior diplomat said on Thursday ahead of a meeting of China and 50 African nations in Beijing.

"I wish to point out that Africa belongs to the Africans - it is not anyone's 'cheese'. Any country that wishes to develop cooperation with Africa must respect the ownership of African countries," Deputy Foreign Minister Zhai Jun said at a seminar on relations between China and Africa.

The veteran diplomat was referring to foreign criticism that China has moved in on others' "cheese" as it strengthens ties with Africa and damaged other countries' interests there.

"China-Africa relations have delivered tangible benefits to Africa's development, and Africa's development is good for the whole world and other countries' cooperation with Africa," he said.

"To those who view China-Africa cooperation as threatening their own interests, I would say that it is their own mentality and policy that need to be examined."

The seminar came one week before the fifth ministerial conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, set to take place in Beijing on July 19 and 20.

Zhai said President Hu Jintao and several African leaders will attend the opening ceremony.

Ministers of foreign affairs and commerce from China and 50 African nations will attend the conference.

Zhai said at the opening ceremony Hu will announce China's new measures to strengthen cooperation with Africa, which will cover areas such as investment, finance, African integration and peace and security.

Beginning in October 2000, the forum has had four ministerial meetings and witnessed Beijing fulfilling its promise of huge financial assistance to Africa.

In 2011, trade between China and Africa reached $166.3 billion, 16 times higher than in 2000, with Africa running a trade surplus of $20 billion.

China has been Africa's largest trading partner since 2009, with more than 2,000 Chinese enterprises currently investing in Africa.

"Despite the negative impact of the global financial crisis, China-Africa cooperation has shown robust growth," Zhai said.

Still, he noted the ties between China and Africa are "not perfect".

There have been complaints that Chinese companies and workers in Africa have taken opportunities from local people.

"This is not the result of Chinese government policy, and they are issues that can be resolved through deeper cooperation and friendly consultation. We take these issues very seriously and stand ready to work with Africa to deal with them properly," Zhai said.

Despite their long history of friendship and positive cooperation, China and Africa are also facing challenges in practical operations, analysts said.

Zhang Hongming, a researcher of West Asian and African studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said testing times are ahead for China and Africa due to the international climate and the two powers having different bilateral pursuits.

"A 'rapid growth' and a 'healthy growth' are two separate issues," Zhang said, noting the latter should be China's target for the next step.

Liu Youfa, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, said political security on the African continent is facing "unprecedented challenges" which will overshadow cooperation with outside forces.

"The continent has seen political turmoil, interference by external powers and uncommon political reshuffles recently, while some major world powers intervened in certain African countries' internal affairs and asked them to take a side," Liu said.

Liu warned that some turmoil in the region has impacted neighboring countries and restrained economic development and the riots seen in North Africa are now spreading south.

Cheng Tao, former director-general of the department of African affairs in the Foreign Ministry and now director of the center for African studies at the China Foundation for International Studies, said China and Africa are increasingly reliant on each other both economically and politically.

Cheng said Africa has given firm, support in recent decades to China's pursuits in the global arena and Africa has expectations on China's growing influence playing a greater role to "balance" international politics.

Become a fan on Facebook