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Chinese President Hu Jingtao and South African President Thabo Mbeki at the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, Nov. 2006 - 

KAI RYSSDAL: Chinese President Hu Jintao left on an eight-country swing through Africa today. It's his second trip to the continent in two years. Trade between the two sides has exploded over the past 10 years to about $40 billion. So we can expect a lot of diplomatic happy talk about growing economic ties. But Hu will be stopping in some of Africa's most troubled places. And, Marketplace's Scott Tong reports from Shanghai, business is only part of the story.


SCOTT TONG: He may not be Bono but Chinese President Hu Jintao packs his own bit of star power in Africa. Francis Kornegay is with the Center for Policy Studies in Johannesberg.


FRANCIS KORNEGAY: The fact of the matter is, China represents an alternative to the West and provides African countries more political and economic space.

In other words, friendship with no strings attached. This decade, China has quadrupled its trade with Africa, and now it buys more than half of Sudan's oil. Human rights groups say that obligates Beijing to pressure Sudan on Darfur. But a top Chinese official last week said there'd be no talk of sanctions. Even so, Andy Rothman of the investment firm CLSA thinks China will assert its influence on issues like Sudan.

ANDY ROTHMAN: But they are going to do it quietly. They are not going to do what an American or European official might do — bang on the table and hold a press conference and tell everybody how they banged on the table.

China's invested in Africa for decades, particularly in resources like oil and minerals. That makes South African President Thabo Mbeki nervous; last month he spoke of heading off a "colonial relationship."

But not to worry, says He Wenping of the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences. She says China plus Africa equals win-win. Take oil:.

HE WENPING: If we can produce more oil from Sudan and from other oil-rich countries, oil production is getting abundant. That, of course, will let the oil prices down.

Critics say that engaging Sudan legitimizes the leaders there.

In Shanghai, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

Follow Scott Tong at @tongscott