The latter often involve more than one, and on occasions, Western, stakeholder and are near production. In other words, they are safer bets. For example, China National Offshore Oil Corporation is involved in building a refinery and oil pipeline in Uganda in a project worth $5bn. Tullow and Total are also stakeholders in the enterprise.
The Chinese National Petroleum Company (CNPC) has also just bought a stake in a gas field in Mozambique from Italian oil firm Eni. The 28.6% share, which sees CNPC make its first foray into East Africa, means the Chinese petroleum firm will work alongside Eni, which continues to have a 50% stake in Block 4 Offshore Licence.
While CNPC’s investment into the gas field is very substantial, the business case is already compelling as Area 4 is regarded as one of the largest discoveries of natural gas made in the last decade and production is not far off.
Yet Chinese interest in Africa is still characterised by a strong degree of continuity, experts argue. “China has already shown interest in multilateral projects and triangulating engagement,” says Vines. “But the main thrust remains bilateral – and is likely to remain so for some time,” he adds.
Infrastructure still the focus
Chinese interest in Africa is still characterised by a strong degree of continuity. Infrastructure clearly continues to be a major focus. “China will continue to prioritise infrastructural development in its cooperation with Africa. We will work with Africa to upgrade and build transport infrastructure in Africa to promote connectivity on the African continent,” said Keqiang during his World Economic Forum address in Abuja.
China National Offshore Oil Corporation is involved in building a refinery and oil pipeline in Uganda in a project worth $5bn
Keqiang highlighted three main areas of focus. First, he mentioned China’s readiness to assist in creating a high-speed railway network which will connect African cities. “China will help make this dream come true by carrying out all-round cooperation with Africa in planning, designing, equipment making as well as construction and management of a high-speed railway,” Keqiang said. “China is ready to set up a high-speed railway R&D centre in Africa to help it complete this mega railway project in Africa. We can start with sub-regions in these efforts,” he added.
Keqiang also said China intends to play an active role in the construction of a network of expressways in West Africa. “Quite a few African countries have also expressed interest in broadening cooperation with China in building expressways. China welcomes such desire and will step up coordination with Africa to connect current expressways in Africa to form a continental network over time,” said Keqiang.
Finally, Keqiang outlined China’s interest in supporting the development of Africa’s aviation network. “By setting up joint aviation companies, providing regional jets, training aviation technical and management personnel, and building supporting facilities, the plan will help promote the development of aviation in Africa,” said Keqiang.
Among the headline deals from Keqiang’s tour was an agreement for China to construct a $3.6bn railway stretching 380 miles, which will link the Kenyan capital Nairobi with the country’s key port and gateway to the Indian Ocean, Mombasa. The connection will form part of a regional network of railways that will include not just Kenya but also Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and Burundi. Construction is due to start on 1st October 2014 and is anticipated to be finished by March 2018.
China’s Export-Import Bank is putting up 90% of the cost of the project, with the Kenyan government contributing the final 10%. It is hoped that the project will provide a serious boost to East African trade. Kenya’s President Kenyatta has even publicly quoted an estimate of how much money Kenya could save in shipping costs – 12 cents per ton per kilometre.
China’s emphasis on economics over politics also shows little sign of changing. Its relations with Africa are still a marked contrast to Africa’s interactions with other major powers in this way. The US is a case in point. Li Keqiang’s visit to Africa was within one week of a visit to the continent by the US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Politics and security-related issues were top of the agenda for Kerry’s visit as he tried to facilitate peace agreements for South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. Kerry also prioritised the need for security cooperation against the rise of al-Qaeda in East Africa and for promoting democratic elections.
Keqiang’s focus on business and commerce was in obvious contrast. The US’s economic engagement with Africa also pales in comparison with China’s, with bilateral trade lingering at around $100bn. Not only has China’s bilateral trade with Africa surpassed the $200bn mark but Standard Chartered predicts it could reach $280bn by next year.