Trade between China and Africa grew rapidly last year, reaching a total of $55.5 billion - a massive rise of 40% on the previous year - and follows a period of intense courtship of Africa by Chinese leaders.
In the past 12 months, China's top leaders have visited 48 African nations and last November 43 heads of African states visited Beijing. In an eight-nation tour of Africa in January, Chinese president Hu Jintao said: "We in China take great pride in our friendship with the African people."
But friendship isn't all that China wants. To realise its ambition of becoming a fully developed country, China needs easy access to cheap commodities, and they don't come cheaper than in Africa: a third of Chinese oil now comes from the continent. In return, Chinese aid in the form of grants and soft loans is dramatically improving the infrastructure of many African countries through new roads, railways, bridges, schools and hospitals. But not everybody is happy about the China-Africa love-in: critics point out that China's willingness to splash money around merely increases African dependence on aid. They also argue that corrupt regimes have no incentive to reform when aid comes without strings, as it invariably does when paid in renminbi.