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UPDATED: February 6, 2012 NO. 6 FEBRUARY 9, 2012
From Aid to Cooperation
China seeks to enhance ties with Africa as the West pulls back
By Yu Lintao

INAUGURATION: Jia Qinglin, Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, hands over a symbolic key to Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, AU Chairman and President of Equatorial Guinea, during the inauguration ceremony of the new AU headquarters complex in Addis Ababa on January 28 (RAO AIMIN)

The Chinese-funded Africa Union (AU) headquarters complex in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia serves as a strong testament to China's renewed commitment to the resource-rich continent, analysts said.

"China and African countries enjoy a long history of profound traditional friendship. The AU headquarters project will be another icon for this friendship. It also indicates that China wants to contribute more to African development through the multilateral platform of the AU," said Xu Weizhong, Deputy Director of the Institute of West Asian and African Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

The 20-story office block, which opened on January 28, is the tallest building in Addis Ababa. It consists of two main buildings—a tower housing offices with a capacity of 700 and a conference center equipped with facilities for top-level meetings. It is the largest grant project from China to Africa after the Tanzania-Zambia Railway in the 1970s.

A win-win practice

"Traditionally, the United States and European countries are the major aid sources for Africa. However, the financial crisis in those countries not only cut their foreign aid budgets, but also severely impacted North African countries with an excessive economic dependence on the West," said He Wenping, a research fellow with the Institute of Western Asian and African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "The troubled economy of the West is partly the cause of the turmoil in North African countries last year."

"Under these circumstances, many African countries have turned their eyes to the East, seeking enhanced ties with newly emerging countries, especially China," she added.

At the inauguration of the new AU headquarters complex, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said the project depicts Africa's rise and bright future and that the great hall is meant to convey the message of optimism and a new era of hope.

"China, its amazing re-emergence and its commitment to a win-win partnership with Africa, is one of the reasons for the beginning of the African renaissance," Meles said.

The project, with a total cost of $200 million, was completed within three years following the hard work of 1,200 Chinese and Ethiopian workers. The office complex stands at 99.9 meters high, a symbolic height that refers to the founding date of the AU on September 9, 1999 and has a floor area of nearly 52,000 square meters.

"China's assistance to Africa is a win-win practice. Economic relations between China and Africa focus on four aspects: trade, investment, aid and project contracting. The four integrate with each other and promote one another. China's assistance not only promotes economic ties between China and Africa, but will also benefit the economic restructuring and future development of China," said Xu.

With the continuing enhancement of economic strength in recent decades, many Chinese enterprises have sought to establish an international presence in keeping with a "going global" strategy. However, they often run into a stone wall when they invest in Western countries partly because of ideological hang-ups. Therefore, African countries have become important destinations for investment of Chinese enterprises.

In addition, the complementary nature of their economic ties offers the two sides broad prospects for cooperation, said He Wenping.

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