Wednesday, July 05, 2006

China's interest in Congo's raw resources


But almost all of the vehicles that convey citizens around the streets of the Congolese capital share one thing in common: A small Chinese lantern dangling from the rear-view mirror.

The trinket is just one visible example of the recent boom in cheap Chinese-made goods in post-war Kinshasa.

'We are seeing more and more Chinese in the city,' observes one taxi driver. 'I think they're mostly business people.'

The trend reflects Beijing's growing interest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in particular the strident Chinese economy's hunger for the natural resources the central African country has to offer.

With eastern Congo rich in gold, diamonds, copper and cobalt, the country now finds itself the centre of much speculative attention. The country's unstable political situation is also appealing to some shady prospectors, who find the payment of bribes preferable to the high taxation regimes in more established countries.

'China needs more and more raw materials, and in Congo they can help themselves almost unhindered,' according to diplomats in Kinshasa.

China has for some time been cultivating ties with DR Congo. Congolese President Joseph Kabila studied at a military academy in Beijing. China has also funded a number of infrastructural projects in DR Congo, including a highway from Kinshasa to Matadi, the main port on the river Congo. Chinese funds meanwhile also paid for the construction of the Congolese 'People's Palace' and 'Martyrs' Stadium.'

China is much beloved as a donor nation in Congo, not least because Beijing does not attach political conditions - such as pro- human rights clauses - to its financial aid.....

According to lobby organization Global Witness, China during 2004 imported an average of 1.9 million dollars' worth of cobalt on a weekly basis.

Analysts have pointed out the significant differences between DR Congo's export statistics, and the corresponding import figures for China. One reason for this is the large-scale and unregulated transport of copper ore across the border to Zambia. China also allegedly plans to renovate the rail link between Katanga and Angola in order to ship material there.

Such practices mean that DR Congo is losing out on badly-needed tax revenue from the export of its natural resources. Leading politicians meanwhile are accused of accepting bribes in return for allowing the situation to continue.

Kabila's family fortune, managed by his mother 'Mama Sifa', is meanwhile estimated to amount to around a billion dollars....

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