Former Chinese Ambassador to Congo-Kinshasa
The posting of Wu Zexian, one of Beijing's most experienced
Francophone diplomats, to Kinshasa in March 2007 shows the seriousness
of China's Africa strategy. Initially, it looked like a surprising
detour for Wu, who after 30 years in the diplomatic service had been
appointed Director General of the Department of European Affairs in
Beijing. Things became clearer by January 2008, when China Exim Bank
signed a massive minerals countertrade deal with President Joseph Kabila for US$5 billion (later raised to $9 bn., AAC Vol 2 No 1).
Wu has steered the deal has past several obstacles, including the scrutiny of Kinshasa's Mining Minister Victor Kasongo
and 2008's sharp fall in mineral prices. The International Monetary
Fund has sinced weighed in, threatening to deny Congo debt relief
unless the deal is renegotiated (see page 5). Wu was outraged and
described the threats as blackmail. Publicly, with ministerial support
from Beijing, Wu has led a fiery attack on the IMF's position in what
may be an elaborate 'good cop, bad cop' act in support of the deal.
Privately, we hear that China Exim Bank is considering a more pragmatic
move: to restructure the countertrade deal enough to satisfy IMF
demands while helping secure Kinshasa some balance of payments support.
Meanwhile, China would retain most of the mineral rights; that would be
a considerable victory for Wu. Exim Bank's gamble is that the IMF
cannot afford to be seen as blocking billions of dollars of much-needed
investment in Congo's energy and mining sectors.
downturn has not deterred Beijing's strategists from their focus on
Africa's natural resources, but many private Chinese companies fled
their Congo smelting operations when market demand slumped, infuriating
Kinshasa's officials. Kinshasa is proving a challenge for Wu. Born in
Jiangsu, he is a graduate of the Beijing Foreign Languages University,
a training ground for China's diplomats. During his thirty years with
the Foreign Ministry, Wu served three tours in France, the last as Ambassador from 2003-2006.