By David Pierson, Los Angeles Times –
BEIJING — Eager to lock up natural resources in Africa, despite the geopolitical risks, China pledged to provide nearly $100 million in aid to the continent a day after 29 of its overseas workers were kidnapped by Sudanese rebels.
Jia Qinglin, chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, met with leaders of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Sunday in a pre-scheduled summit aimed at strengthening ties with a region increasingly vital to China’s energy needs.
The meeting took place as Chinese officials were also working to free the hostages abducted Saturday in the war-torn Sudanese state of South Kordofan. The Chinese workers were reportedly building a road for Sinohydro Corp., the world’s largest builder of hydropower plants.
Fourteen of the workers were said to have been rescued Monday, though the whereabouts of the remaining Chinese are unknown, the Sudan News Agency reported.
Thirsty for oil and other raw materials needed to fuel its breakneck development, China is funneling money and manpower into ever more volatile regions of the globe. A major beneficiary is Africa, where China is helping develop oil fields, mines and infrastructure. Despite international pressure, Beijing has developed trade ties with energy-rich pariah states, including Sudan, carefully avoiding criticism of those regimes.
“We have always regarded assistance and support between China and Africa as mutual and have never attached political strings to our assistance to Africa,” state-run media quoted Jia saying Sunday in Ethiopia.
China, the world’s second-largest consumer of oil, behind the U.S., has often refused to go along with the international community if resources are at stake. Beijing has shunned calls to boycott Iranian oil and remains one of that country’s last remaining customers.
China is now the top buyer of Sudanese oil and is also a major investor in Libya, where it prizes the country’s “light sweet,” or low-sulfur, crude to make gasoline.
The foray into Africa has been dangerous. China was forced to evacuate 36,000 workers from Libya last year after that country’s civil war led to the overthrow and eventual slaying of strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
A report Monday in Canada’s Globe and Mail said the 54-nation African Union (which includes Sudan) probably would forge closer ties with China after the death of Gadhafi, who had been a major source of financial support.
The $95 million that China pledged in aid Sunday was more than a third of the group’s $270 million annual budget, the newspaper reported.
Even the union’s $200 million headquarters, furniture and all, was financed and built by China.