Wu   Zexian

Wu Zexian

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.

The global 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.