China in Africa, the refrain repeats

From the AFP (via the Global Geopolitics) is this news story on the Chinese public diplomacy campaign in Africa:

China’s foreign minister signed a string of accords in Benin, officials said, as part of a whistle-stop tour of seven African nations as Beijing bolsters economic ties on the continent.

Li Zhaoxing agreed to write off debt, to grant a new 30 million yuan (2.9 million euro, 3.8 million dollar) loan and to offer an aid package, Beninese foreign ministry officials said.

Neither the amount of debt canceled nor the small west African state’s total debt owed to China were given. The aid package was to help improve administration and transport infrastructure.

From Benin Li flew on Monday to Equatorial Guinea ahead of visits in the coming days to Guinea-Bissau, Chad, the Central African Republic, Eritrea and Botswana.

China is keen to gain access to Africa’s massive raw material reserves to feed the breakneck growth seen in its own economy. In doing so it has been criticized for dealing with countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe spurned by the West for human rights abuses.

In November China’s courtship of Africa culminated in a summit of 40 African countries in the Chinese capital, with President Wen Jintao saying China wanted to more than double trade with Africa to 100 billion dollars a year by 2010.

Meanwhile, in the New York Times back on Christmas Eve, Jeffrey Gettleman wrote Across Africa, a Sense That U.S. Power Isn’t So Super:

Somalia may be the place that best illustrates a trend sweeping across the African continent: After Sept. 11, 2001, the United States concluded that anarchy and misery aid terrorism, and so it tried to re-engage Africa. But anti-American sentiment on the continent has only grown, and become increasingly nasty. And the United States seems unable to do much about it.

A number of experts on Africa trace those developments to a sense not of American power, but of its decline — a perception that the United States is no longer the only power that counts, that it is too bogged down in the Middle East to be a real threat here, and so it can be ignored or defied with impunity.

American officials, for example, acknowledge that they are at a loss about what to do about the on-again, off-again Somali crisis, which cracked open last week when the two forces dueling for power blasted away at each other in their first major confrontation. In this case, there are a lot of reasons why many of the people don’t like Americans, starting with the United States’ botched efforts to play peacemaker in the early 1990s to its current support for Ethiopia, which is taking sides in Somalia’s internal politics.

For example, there is Sudan, a country that the West, and the United States in particular, has desperately tried to isolate. First, it was because of Sudan’s links to terrorists. Then came reports that the government was tied to genocide in Darfur. Sanctions have been imposed, almost embarrassing amounts of diplomatic pressure have been exerted and now military threats are being made. The result: even more anti-American hatred, which plays straight into the hand of the hard-line Khartoum regime.

Why are the results of American policy in Sudan so meager? Two reasons stand out above others: oil and Asia.

But the broader issue playing out here — the sense that the United States is not the kingmaker it once was — goes beyond Mogadishu. It is Africa-wide. And it is based on a changed reality: the emergence of other customers for Africa’s resources and the tying down of American military forces in Iraq have combined to reduce American clout in sub-Saharan Africa, even as the United States pumps in more financial aid than ever — about $4 billion per year — and can still claim to be the one superpower left standing.

Sudan is flush with a booming supply of crude, and it has turned from West to East for trade partners: to China, India, Malaysia and the Arab world. That means American economic leverage doesn’t work as it once did. Consider how little effect the sanctions have had on Sudan’s economy — it’s one of the fastest growing in the world, even as Darfur burns.

“We learned that we don’t need the Americans anymore,” said Lam Akol, Sudan’s foreign minister. “We found other avenues.”