- Cape Verde has announced its active participation in the competition over which nations are to host the five Chinese economic cooperation zones in Africa. Zambia and Mauritius already have been picked by the Chinese, and Tanzania, Liberia and Nigeria now compete with Cape Verde.
Cape Verdean Finance Minister José Brito has told the press that he had raised the issue with visiting Chinese Deputy Commerce Minister Wei Jianguo. Minister Brito said Cape Verde wanted to become one of the five locations to host China's new "economic cooperation zones" in Africa, and asked Mr Jianguo to pass the message to Beijing.
"Since the Chinese government has decided to create five zones, Prime Minister [Jose María Neves] has proposed Cape Verde is one of these areas," Me Brito was quoted as saying by the Chinese media 'MacauHub'. "The visit of the Chinese delegation is the continuation of this request made by the Prime Minister. I think the Chinese have gathered all the information needed to make a decision," he added.
To further strengthen Cape Verde's candidature, Finance Minister Brito is to travel on an official visit to Beijing within short.
The bid for a Chinese special economic zone and Mr Brito's upcoming visit to China is part of a comprehensive Cape Verdean policy of strengthening ties with China and to become a hub for Chinese trade between Africa, the Americas and Europe - competing with the nearby Spanish Canary Islands that follow the same strategy. Cape Verde, due to its historically friendly ties to China, is however seen to be winning in this competition.
Cape Verde is also seen as a strong candidate in the competition among several African countries to achieve extraordinary Chinese investments through the setting up of special economic zones. The setting up of three to five of these zones in Africa was announced during the Sino-African summit in Beijing last November, where China pledged to invest US$ 5 billion in Africa.
The first of these special zones was set up in the Zambian mining town of Chambishi in February this year. At the opening ceremony, hosted by Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa and Chinese President Hu Jintao, China promised an investment of US$ 800 million in Chambishi. President Hu also said the Chambishi zone would boost the development of Zambia's light industry and the sectors of construction materials, home electrical appliance, pharmacy and food processing and create job opportunities for locals.
The Zambian-Chinese special economic zone, which now serves as a model for further zones in Africa, is especially adapted for attracting investments from China's private and public sector. Chinese companies locating here are exempted from paying certain taxes. In Zambia, however, the zone has been met with scepticism and fears of Chinese "neo-colonialism".
The second Chinese special economic zone is being set up in Mauritius, following a decision made shortly after the Beijing summit. Mauritian authorities have been promised investments in the range of US$ 500 million, the creation of around 7,500 jobs and export earnings of more than US$ 200 million annually. Mauritian Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam is to visit Beijing later this month to sign the final agreement.
Meanwhile, negotiations between China and Tanzania to set up a special economic zone seem to be at an advanced stage, but Beijing authorities so far have not wanted to make a final decision. A Chinese Ministry of Commerce delegation visiting Dar es Salaam in May this year gave no binding answer to Tanzanian Trade Minister Basil Mramba. The traditionally strong Sino-Tanzanian ties however would make it difficult for Beijing to give a negative answer.
Also the government of Liberia, which wants to set up special economic zone near the port of Buchanan, has so far failed to receive an answer from Beijing. As with Nigeria, negotiations seem to be at a very early stage. Tanzania and Cape Verde thus may hold the greatest possibilities of hosting China's next special cooperation zones in Africa.
But the setting up of these special economic zones - providing Chinese companies with low taxes and duties - are increasingly controversial in Africa. While China now is Africa's third biggest investor and could turn the biggest by 2010, anti-Chinese sentiments are reviving all over the continent. China is increasingly seen as having neo-colonial aims, exploiting local resources and labour and ruining African industries through cheap imports. During President Hu's visit to Zambia, announced protests caused him to cancel large parts of his programme.
Beijing is working hard to counter this negative image. During last year's impressive Sino-African summit, President Hu pledged to treat Africa as an equal partner and to follow up business investments with generous financial incentives. Also the setting up of special economic zones in Africa was presented as a development cooperation initiative.
But at home, Chinese authorities present these zones in a very different manner. The establishment of economic zones in Asia and Africa "is part of China's Ministry of Commerce's plan to encourage domestic privately-run enterprises to venture overseas during the country's Eleventh Five-Year Plan period," which spans from 2006 to 2010, official information reads.
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