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September 12, 2014

China-Africa in the news: China to deploy troops to South Sudan, build steel plant in South Africa, and give more loans to Zimbabwe

China will deploy 700 troops to South Sudan later this year as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country. Contrary to initial reports of the decision, the soldiers are not yet in the country. About 1.5 million people have been displaced and thousands killed since war broke out between government forces and fighters loyal to ex-deputy president Riek Machar last December, after President Salva Kiir accused Machar of planning a coup against him. The fighting has since taken on ethnic overtones.

China usually prefers a non-interventionist policy, which has been thrown to the sides in South Sudan. It has been involved in regional efforts to get the two sides agree to a cease-fire, working with Western diplomats in the process. This departure from principal is not surprising considering that five percent of China's oil imports came from the country before the war disrupted pumping. China is also the "biggest investor in oilfields in South Sudan through state-owned Chinese oil groups China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) and Sinopec."

However, China has also been accused of arming one of the sides in the conflict - the government - even as it plays peacemaker. Its biggest arms manufacturer shipped "$38 million worth of missiles, grenade launchers, machine guns and ammunition to South Sudan’s government" in June, alarming observers who feared the arms would "contribute to the grave human rights abuses that have characterised the conflict."

It is no wonder South Sudan rebels have accused China of double standards, saying its actions are motivated by economic interest.

China to build its largest overseas steel plant in South Africa
A Chinese company is part of a venture that will see China's biggest overseas steel mill built in South Africa’s Limpopo province. Hebei Iron and Steel, which is owned by the Chinese government, signed a deal that gives it a 51 percent stake in a venture with the South African Industrial Development Corp. and the China-Africa Development Fund. According to the Wall Street Journal, the mill will produce "five million metric tons mostly of construction steel when completed in 2019." The investors in the project declined to reveal its financial details.

The decision to build the plant in South Africa was a result of "policy pressures," following tightening environmental regulation. Hebei province, where the lead investor originates, "faces the tough task of cutting its excessive iron and steel capacities" in line with Chinese policy.

The move has also been touted as being in line with China's "going out" strategy. In this particular case some analysts believe the plant will help "in terms of cooperation with Africa."

Zimbabwe repays $180 million loan to China to get more loans
Zimbabwe paid $180 million to China in the first six months of the year, according to Zimbabwean Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa. The money, which is not part of the government's budget, was in payment of outstanding arrears and an effort to burnish Zimbabwe's standing in China. President Robert Mugabe recently visited China to seek support for his country's struggling economy.

Mugabe & Xi Jinping

Zimbabwe still owes $700 million to China, and has had a patchy record in servicing that amount. Trade between the two countries has been increasing, from $300 million five years ago to $1 billion last year. In China Mugabe managed to get a $290 million loan from China's Exim Bank, part of which will be used to "improve infrastructure on farms seized from white farmers."

South Africa jails Chinese national for possessing illegal ivory
In South Africa the biggest penalty ever for possessing illegal ivory was handed to a Chinese national, who was sentenced to ten years in prison and a R5 million (US$ 455,000) fine. The Chinese national, Cheng Jie Liang, was found in possession of one ton of poached elephant tusks worth R21 million. He was also sentenced to two years in jail for illegally possessing abalone.

"The severity of the fine is a reflection of the courts recognising that, although elephant poaching occurs outside South Africa, the courts still regard ivory smuggling a serious a crime," according to the Independent Online. The convict was "probably part of an international ivory smuggling syndicate - “nearly at the top” - working as a courier and exporter."

Chinese demand for ivory has been blamed for an increase in elephant deaths. A recent report found that "poaching across Africa is killing off elephants at an unsustainable rate," with elephants killed in the four years between 2009 and 2012 higher than elephant deaths in the decade before that period. "During the peak year of ivory prices, 2011, about 40,000 elephants were killed—or 8 percent of the known population." China's ambassador to Tanzania recently complained of such "bad habits" by its nationals, describing them as "growing pains” in its relationship with African countries.

Tanzania hopes to balance trade with China in four years
Tanzania's trade with China, now at a surplus favouring China, will balance in four years, according to Tanzania's ambassador to China, Lt General (Rtd) Abdulrahaman Shimbo. The prediction is premised on the hope that China will import more from the East African country (mainly minerals, gas, and agricultural products), increase investments in the country, and agree to unconditional trade concessions. China is Tanzania's second largest investor, after Britain, but Mr Shimbo believes that dynamic will be overturned in two years. China had invested about US$ 3.7 billion in Tanzania by the end of 2013. There were also 500 Chinese companies operating in the country by that period.

Tibetans petition South African office over Dalai Lama
Tibetans petitioned the South African Liaison Office in Taiwan to protest against South Africa's continual sidelining of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Last week the Dalai Lama cancelled a planned trip to South Africa after the Department of International Relations and Co-operation indicated that it would not grant him a visa, the third time it was doing so. The department said its decision was in the national interest, with South Africa not willing to complicate its relationship with China, which views the Dalai Lama as a political separatist threatening its rule in Tibet. The South African representative in Taiwan "refused to meet" the Tibetans.

Mozambique and China sign agreement to renovate port
Mozambique and China signed an agreement to finance the rehabilitation of the fishing port in the city of Beira. China's Exim Bank will provide a loan of $120 million to finance the port's rehabilitation.

2500 Chinese workers expected for Kenya railway
China Road and Bridge Corporation, the Chinese company constructing Kenya's standard gauge railway, will bring in a maximum of 2500 "Chinese technical and managerial personnel." This is half of the figure - 5,000 - announced earlier this month, which raised complaints among Kenyans. China is providing 90 percent of the funding for the railway project which is expected to employ 30,000 people. 600 of the expected 2500 Chinese workers have already arrived in Kenya.

Chinese-funded Presidential Palace complete in Sudan
In Sudan the government announced the completion of a presidential palace built with Chinese funds. Sudan’s official SUNA news agency reported that the project attests to “the strong relations between Khartoum and Beijing.”

Kenya and Uganda seek Chinese investment and tourists
Kenya and Uganda were both in China seeking investments and tourists respectively. Kenya’s Commerce and Tourism Minister told delegates at the China International Fair for Investment and Trade in Fujian Province that Kenya is open to investors in its manufacturing, agriculture, energy, and tourism sectors.  Uganda’s Tourism Board meanwhile led a delegation to the China Guangdong International Tourism Industry Expo in Guangzhou, with an official saying “China is a tourist market Uganda can’t afford to ignore.”

Raymond Mpubani, Wits China Africa Reporting Project.

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