The controversy over South Africa barring the Dalai Lama from a peace conference in Johannesburg later this week is a reminder that China is deeply involved in Africa.

China’s exports to Africa last year rose 36.3 percent from 2007 to $50.8 billion, while imports of African goods rose 54 percent to $56 billion, according to customs data reported by Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, in February.

Critics say China’s investment in and aid to Africa is meant only to secure access to the continent’s natural resources, and they accuse China of being willing to do business with dictators to get what it wants. African governments, though, laud China for giving aid without the strings Westerners often attach, and are counting on China standing by them in tough economic times.

A glance at recent developments in Chinese-African relations:

– China, which buys two-thirds of Sudan’s petroleum exports, in March backed calls by African and Arab countries to have the International Criminal Court drop its warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

– In February, Chinese President Hu Jintao signed agreements with Tanzania to ease the flow of investment, provide loans for the purchase of farm equipment and send Chinese advisers to help develop infrastructure, according to Tanzanian state television. Hu promised while visiting Tanzania to import more from Africa to help developing economies weather the global economic crisis.

– Also in February, Hu signed a bilateral agreement promising Senegal over $90 million in grants and loans.

– In Malawi in January, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi signed an agreement to build a $90 million hotel conference center in the capital, Lilongwe. China is also building a Parliament house and a highway linking northern Malawi to Zambia.

– Last July, China and Russia vetoed a U.S.-sponsored U.N. Security Council resolution that proposed worldwide sanctions against Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, accusing him of trampling Zimbabwean’s democratic rights and ruining the once prosperous nation’s economy.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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