African politics bestowed with Chinese feng shui.
While China's ties with Africa are often characterized as a mad rush to secure resources to fuel its energy-hungry economy, the Asian giant is working on erecting the symbol that was missing for its relations with the continent.
As Africa's leaders gather in Addis Ababa for their annual meeting at the African Union's headquarters, they can see the site where hundreds of Chinese workers are building the titanic structure that should host their summits in two years.
"Symbolically, it is a very strong message: China and Africa have a long and strong friendship and this center is the symbol of this solidarity," said Fantahun Michael, the official coordinating the project with the African Union.
All around him, hundreds of helmeted Chinese and Ethiopian workers and yellow earth-moving equipment inscribed with ideograms work on the foundations of what will become the new headquarters of the 53-member AU.
"The project started in January 2009 with the inauguration ceremony. Normally it should be completed in December 2011," said the Ethiopian official.
"It is a gift to the AU designed by China, managed by China, financed by China and constructed by China."
"AU has its own team to follow up the construction, to ensure the quality of the project. It is natural even if it is a gift that we have our say about our needs," Fantahun explained.
Once completed, the AU headquarters will top 100 meters (330 feet) in height with 23 floors and some 500 offices, making it the tallest building in the Ethiopian capital.
The compound will house a conference center with an auditorium that can accommodate 2,550 guests, a huge conference room and many other facilities, including two helicopter landing pads.
On the same plot, Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire Sheikh Al-Amoudi, the country's top private investor, is building a five-star hotel slated to include 32 presidential suites and 27 ministerial suites out of a total of 276 rooms.
As early as 2012, the entire project should enable the African Union to host its annual ordinary summits without having to rent out the UN conference center as has been the case for years.
"We don't know yet the total cost of the construction. We have already signed several agreements with China for a total amount of $120 million," Fantahun said.
"It is a gift and there is nothing in exchange, or any attachment to it."
China, on the brink of becoming the world's second economy, is often criticized for lavishing no-strings-attached projects on Africa in a way that is reminiscent of the continent's colonial history with the West.
At the recent China-Africa summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, the Chinese government pledged $10 billion in low-cost loans for the continent's development over the next three years.
China, which is building political institutions in several other African countries, argues it is not in the business of lecturing on human rights and good governance, treating Africa as an equal partner.
Beijing's detractors for their part retort that the initial mercantilist approach conceals more political intentions which have not been fully revealed yet.
Trade between China and Africa grew tenfold in ten years to reach $107 billion in 2008, and the Asian giant's investments on the continent rival those of major international financial institutions.
Daily NewsEgypt 2009
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