Chinese President Hu Jintao's current eight-nation tour of Africa should leave no doubt that the "Chinese Century" is in full swing in Africa. But if African states want to be equal partners in the emerging Africa-China relationship, they need, ironically, to rip a page from the European imperialist handbook.
In 1884-85, European states famously held a conference in Berlin to establish the ground rules in the "scramble for Africa." That model for mutual cooperation is one that Africa would do well to emulate: African heads of state need a Pan-African summit in Africa to decide on some ground rules for Africa-China cooperation.
One of those rules is to recognize what China wants from Africa. China seeks secure access to the raw materials it needs to feed its roaring economy. Take oil. Fifteen years ago China was self- sufficient in oil. Today, it has become the world's second-largest importer of oil, a need that will accelerate, as experts predict that by 2020 there will be 140 million private cars in China.
China's long-term interests in Africa are reflected in its overall trade.
A recent study indicates that China has overtaken Britain to become Africa's third-most important trading partner (after the US and France). China has already invested billions of dollars in Africa and billions more are earmarked for the future. China is active all over Africa, building railways, mines, and manufacturing plants. It has poured billions of dollars into Sudan's oil industry, money very welcome to a regime with few friends. China recently signed a loan deal with Zimbabwe, another country with few international friends, and has signed a deal with Angola, the latest country to join OPEC.
Overall trade between Africa and China grew more than 50 percent in 2005 to $42 billion. If this stunning pace continues, and there are no indications to suggest otherwise, the ripple effects could be massive.
Underscoring China's focus on Africa was the third Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, held last November. The summit was attended by 48 of 53 African heads of state as well as many other high-ranking African public officials and private citizens. Even more remarkable is President Hu's current two-week African tour, following a seven-nation tour by Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing last month. …