by Staff Writers
Addis Ababa (AFP) Jan 28, 2012
The African Union inaugurated Saturday its new high-rise headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, built and donated by China at a cost of $200 million.
"The towering complex speaks volumes about our friendship to the African people, and testifies to our strong resolve to support African development," said Jia Qinglin, chairman of China's political advisory body, the People's Political Consultative Conference.
The sleek edifice -- Addis Ababa's tallest -- will host the African Union summit which gathers African heads of state.
"This complex is a reflection of the new Africa," said the African Union chairman, Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, at the opening ceremony. "This is a highly significant event in the life of our organisation."
The building, which towers above the Ethiopian capital, was opened ahead of the start Sunday of the pan-African body's 18th ordinary summit, a bold symbol of China's rapidly changing role in Africa.
Construction was wholly funded by the Chinese government, with even the furnishings paid for by the Asian powerhouse, and most of the construction material was imported from China.
"China is Africa's largest trading partner with $150 billion ... which amounts to 10 percent of the total of our foreign trade," Jia said.
"We have an investment stock of $13 billion in Africa, with more than 2000 Chinese companies investing," he added.
China's investment in Africa has surged in the past 15 years. Until recently, it focused mainly on bilateral relations. The new building suggests a push to foment multilateral links.
Fluttering red flags emblazoned with the slogan "Peace, Development, Cooperation" were set up around the centre, a reference to Beijing's efforts to develop a strategic China-Africa partnership.
Around a dozen African leaders attended the inauguration ahead of the two-day African Union summit focusing on intra-African trade. African countries trade more with the West and China than with themselves.
Jia handed Obiang a giant golden key to symbolise the opening of the new building, standing on the grounds where Ethiopia's oldest and infamous prison once stood.
"China, its amazing re-emergence and its commitment to win partnership is one of the reasons for the beginning of the African renaissance," said Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi.
"Over the past decades, China-Africa cooperation has gone from strength to strength. The future prospects of our partnership are even brighter," Meles added.
Construction of the new headquarters kicked off in January 2009, and a team of up to 1,200 Chinese and Ethiopian workers laboured around the clock in two or three shifts to finish it on schedule.
The site boasts three conference centres, a helipad and office space for 700 people. Its main conference hall has a sitting capacity of 2,500.
Key dates in China-Africa ties
The following are a series of dates that explain the growing relationship between China and Africa over the past 15 years:
- March, 1997: The state-run China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) signs a contract with Sudan to build a pipeline linking its oilfields with the Red Sea.
In 1996, the CNPC signed a production sharing agreement with Sudan, Malaysia and India to develop Sudan's oil fields, taking over from American and Canadian oil companies which left the country due to the war in the south.
- January-February, 1999: Chinese foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan and vice president Hu Jintao make visits to Africa marked by numerous cooperation accords in what is the start of China's charm offensive in the continent.
- January-February, 2004: President Hu Jintao makes a three-nation tour of Africa, visiting Egypt, Gabon and Algeria.
- October, 2005: Senegal announces the resumption of diplomatic relations with China, which had been severed in 1996 after Dakar recognised Taiwan. In 2006, Chad decides to break diplomatic ties with Taiwan and reestablish links with Beijing.
- November, 2006: Some 48 African nations attend a summit with China in Beijing in an illustration of China's growing clout.
- February, 2007: Hu Jintao makes a tour of Africa, visiting Cameroon, Liberia, Sudan, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique and Seychelles. Before the tour China promises to write off debts owed by 33 African countries and on each stop Hu hands out generous loans and grants and promises to boost trade.
- June, 2007: China launches a fund to encourage Chinese firms to invest in Africa, claiming its aim is not to make profit but to boost a new type of strategic partnership with the continent.
- February, 2008: The presidents of resource-hungry China and oil-rich Nigeria meet and sign energy deals in Beijing's latest overture to an African nation.
- December: Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos pays a state visit to China.
- November, 2009: China pledges 10 billion dollars (7.6 billion euros) in concessional loans to Africa's states and offers full assistance to the continent in agriculture and infrastructure at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
- May, 2010: Nigeria, the world's eighth biggest crude oil exporter, and a Chinese state firm sign a 23-billion-dollar deal to build three refineries and a petrochemical complex in one of Africa's biggest tie ups with China.
- November 30-December 2, 2011: China's Defence Minister Liang Guanglie visits Uganda and the Seychelles.
- January 5, 2012: Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi hails Africa as a "golden ground" for foreign investment, and vows to work with Chinese firms to ensure they comply with local labour laws.
- January 28: Inauguration of the Chinese-built African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa.
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New AU headquarters marks strong China-Africa ties
Addis Ababa (AFP) Jan 27, 2012
Towering above the Ethiopian capital, cloaked in urban smog, the new Chinese-built African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa is a bold symbol of China's rapidly changing role in Africa. Once seen as strictly interested in extracting raw resources and investing in infrastructure, China has interests on the continent that are increasingly shifting to investing in institutions and governments, ... read more
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