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In the final week before the fourth ministerial FOCAC meeting in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, on November 8 and 9, China has been intensifying its effort to put across the‘win-win’ view of its African engagement, with a barrage of new announcements, trailers of the new measures to be unveiled at the summit, and facts and figures to rebut the most common criticisms and fears. Stephen Marks reviews preparations in the run-up to the meeting.

In the final week before the fourth ministerial FOCAC meeting in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, on November 8 and 9, China has been intensifying its effort to put across the‘win-win’ view of its African engagement, with a barrage of new announcements, trailers of the new measures to be unveiled at the summit, and facts and figures to rebut the most common criticisms and fears.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and leaders from other African countries will attend the opening ceremony. Participants will review how the consensus of the Beijing Summit had been implemented, on which China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi will make a report.

The meeting will also adopt a Sharm el-Sheikh declaration and an action plan to chart the path for further China-Africa cooperation from 2010 to 2012,. China will also announce new measures to help African development.

A senior officials' meeting will be held on Nov. 6, and the third meeting of Chinese-African entrepreneurs will be held on Nov. 7.

According to China’s Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhai Jun, preparations for the meeting had been carried out ‘smoothly’, and t’he two sides have reached a consensus on the agenda and drafts of the meeting's documents’

There are also official hints of ‘far-reaching plans to help the livelihood of Africans’ to be unveiled by Premier Wen. According to one Commerce Ministry official ‘"We will pay more attention to the buildup of Africa's capability of independent development...We will further push China-Africa cooperation forward in various fields such as agriculture, food safety, infrastructure construction, trade, investment and healthcare."

In a recognition of Egypt’s dual African and Arab role, Premier Wen will also visit the Cairo-based headquarters of the League of Arab States. He will sign a package of cooperative agreements with his Egypt, which Chinese sources remind us was ‘the first Arab and African country to have established diplomatic relations with China’.

CHINA'S ECONOMIC PACKAGE

The Ministry of Commerce has released figures showing that in the first six months of 2009 China’s direct investment in Africa grew by 78.6 per cent year on year. In 2008 China’s direct investment in Africa had totalled $5.49 billion, representing nearly 10 per cent of China’s total overseas direct investment.

Africa has also become China's second largest engineering contracting market. By late 2008, China had made deals for contract projects worth $126.3 billion in Africa and completed a turnover of $68.1 billion . And in the first three quarters of 2009, China completed a contract engineering business turnover of $17.84 billion, up 41.2 percent year-on-year.

Sensitive to claims that Chinese investments fail to create local jobs, the Ministry also points to the 1,216-km-long Chinese-built Algeria East-West Expressway which it claims has created some 100,000 jobs in Algeria. And Chinese contracts to lease sugar plants or refineries in Togo, Madagascar, Sierra Leone and Benin have not only brought these countries a total of $20 million in tax income but also created an additional 8000 jobs, the Ministry official claimed.

The Ministry also boasts that China has actually exceeded its 2006 FOCAC committment to make $2 billion available in preferential credit for infrastructure development, claiming that China has to date arranged 11 infrastructure projects under the scheme, including housing estates, highways, power stations, harbors, ports and telecommunication facilities, with a total value of $2.784 billion.

In advance of the summit, China is claming to have fulfilled, or be on target for fulfilling, all eight pledges made by President Hu Jintao at the last FOCAC sumit held in Beijing in 2006. including a pledge to double China's aid to Africa in three years. It claims that by the end of September 2009, it had finished more than 90 percent of the pledges and, by the end of the year, will have completely fulfilled or exceeded them all.

According to Peoples Daily, China has helped train a total of 13,757 professionals 91.7 percent of the number pledged. Eighty-seven Chinese agricultural experts had already reached Africa, while other experts arrived in late October. So, in all, 104 Chinese agricultural experts are now working in 33 African countries.

China promised to set up 10 special agricultural technology demonstration centers in Africa three years ago. To date, construction of all of them has been launched.

China pledged to assist African nations in building 30 hospitals, including the provision of medical equipment or facilities for two of them. At present, 16 hospitals are being built, the construction for 10 other hospitals will commence late this year, and pre-construction preparations or designing for the remaining two hospitals are underway.

China also stresses that its investment in Africa has continued to grow despite the global economic downturn. China's FDI in Africa amounted to 875 million dollars in the first three quarters of 2009, representing a year-on-year increase of 78.6 percent

Meanwhile, Africa has become China's second largest engineering contracting market. By late 2008, the country had inked deals with Africa for contract projects worth $126.3 billion and completed the turnover of $68.1 billion. From January to September this year, China’s contract engineering business in Africa reached a turnover of $17.84 billion up 41.2 percent year-on-year.

China also boasts of its investment in agrobusiness in Africa, now claimed to total 72 enterprises with a total investment value of $134 million. Aware of the sensitivity of the issue, it is at pains to present its agribusiness investment as aimed at increasing domestic African food supplies and agricultural productivity.

FOCAC – let your voice be heard:

In the wake of the FOCAC meeting, Emerging Powers in Africa Briefing will be opening its columns to a range of analyses and reactions to this crucial event. Your comments are welcome.

BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS

* Stephen Marks is research associate and project co-ordinator with Fahamu’s China in Africa Project
* Please send comments to editor@pambazuka.org or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/