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Cablegate: China's Growing Presence in Cameroon

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TAGS: PGOV PREL CM ECON EFIS EINV CH ETRD ENRG EPET EAGR
SUBJECT: China's Growing Presence in Cameroon

1. (SBU) Summary: China has a long bilateral friendship with
Cameroon, reflected in the 2007 visit to Cameroon by President Hu
Jintao. The Chinese government has provided grants or concessional
loans to fund a number infrastructure projects (hospitals, schools,
roads, and stadiums). China provides military training, equipment,
and technical assistance. Chinese engagement has increased over
the past year, with new infrastructure projects and broader
commercial ties, including a 34% jump in bilateral trade from 2008
to 2009. Cameroonians appear increasingly suspicious of China's
engagement. Despite China's growing importance in Cameroon, we and
other major donors see no real opportunities for cooperation. This
cable responds to reftel request for information in advance of a
U.S.-China sub-regional dialogue in March. End summary.


A History of Engagement


2. (SBU) China sees Cameroon as a longtime friend, with relations
established in 1971. Cameroon has consistently supported the One
China policy. China sees Cameroon as a linchpin in the Central
African region, with a port and economy of regional importance.
Chinese President Hu Jintao's January 30 - February 1, 2007 visit
to Cameroon (and Cameroon President Biya's four visits to China)
reflect this historical friendship and regional importance.


3. (U) President Hu Jintao signed eight bilateral accords during
his 2007 visit worth over $129 million, nearly a quarter of which
($30.7 million) was debt forgiveness. The accords awarded
concessional loans to build and equip a gynecological, obstetric
and pediatric hospital in Douala, construct two rural primary
schools, and increase technical and economic cooperation. The
money also funded projects of the GRC's choosing, which included
wireless (CDMA) phone technology for CAMTEL (developed by Huawei
Technologies), a potable water project for Douala, and several
small agricultural projects.


4. (U) China has funded other construction and infrastructure
projects. The Lagdo hydroelectric dam was built by a Chinese
construction company in the 1980s. China built the Guider Hospital
in North Province, the Mbalmayo Hospital, the Yaounde
Gyno-Obstetric Hospital, and the Yaounde Conference Center. China
has also built a number of roads in Douala. Some small towns in
Cameroon, such as Guider with a population of about 70,000 in North
Region, benefit from resident Chinese doctors funded by the Chinese
government. The Chinese are active in the fishing sector,
including in Limbe.


5. (SBU) In other areas, China provides some scholarships for
studying in China and has built a Confucius Institute at the
Institute of International Relations (IRIC) for the study of
Chinese language and culture. China has an ongoing
military-military relationship with Cameroon, which includes
training for Cameroonian military students each year in China,
technical advisors to assist in repairing Cameroonian military
vehicles and naval vessels, and Chinese military sales.


New Initiatives: Cultural and Political


6. (U) Chinese engagement has intensified over the past year. The
Embassy hosted high profile cultural events in Yaounde and Douala
to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Chinese Revolution,
followed by an even higher profile opening of a major indoor sports
stadium in Yaounde, funded by a Chinese government grant and built
by a Chinese construction firm. China recently donated 510 books
to the University of Maroua in the Far North Region as the basis of
a local Confucius Institute. The Chinese Communist Party donated
computers to the ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement
(CPDM). Cameroon's President of the National Assembly, Caveye
Yegui Djibril, made a widely publicized visit to China in December
2009.


New Economic Ties

Yaounde 00000095 002 of 003


7. (U) In August, 2009 the government awarded Chinese firm
SinoHydro Corporation Ltd. a $302 million contract on a Build Own
Operate basis to construct the Memve'ele hydroelectric dam in South
Region. The project had previously been under negotiation with
British firm Globelecq. In January 2010, China signed a $49
million preferential loan with Cameroon for the construction of the
Mekin hydroelectric power plant in the South Region. In November
2009, Exim Bank China contributed financing worth more than $180
million for various projects, including the second phase of a
Douala water project, the construction of two stadiums in Bafoussam
and Limbe, and the construction of the Douala Gyno-Obstetric
Hospital.


8. (U) Also in the past year, Chinese companies have gotten
agreements to explore for iron ore near Kribi and oil in the Far
North region. With the collapse of the timber market in Europe as
a result of the global financial crisis, sources tell us that more
Cameroonian timber has been exported to China. Chinese nationals
have also been given large tracts of land for agricultural
production, including rice, mushrooms and corn. Other Chinese road
projects are also in the works.


9. (U) China and Cameroon signed a trade agreement in 2002 giving
each other "most favored nation" trading status. According to
Chinese government trade statistics for the first three quarters of
2009, Chinese trade with Cameroon totaled $1.5 million in 2009 (up
34%), with 916 million in Chinese exports to Cameroon (up 17%) and
$5.9 million in imports from Cameroon to China (up 71%). According
to 2008 WTO data, China is Cameroon's third largest source of
imports (9.1%); according to the Chinese Embassy here, China is
Cameroon's sixth largest export market. Cameroon's main Chinese
imports are building materials, chemicals, machinery, textiles, and
electronics. Cameroon's main exports to China are oil, timber,
rubber, cotton and agricultural products.


10. (U) China's commercial presence in Cameroon ranges from
restaurants, small shops and vending operations, to at least 15
Chinese public works companies with business totaling over $16
million. According to Xinhua News Agency, the number of Chinese in
Cameroon doubled from 2006 to 2008 to around 2,000. We would guess
this has increased significantly since 2008, with Chinese citizens
much more evident in the country over the past year.


Cameroon's Views of China


11. (SBU) Cameroonians seem increasingly suspicious of China's
presence and intentions in Cameroon. There is concern about the
growing activity of small-scale businesses and the larger numbers
of Chinese in Yaounde and Douala. There is also frustration with
competition from cheap Chinese goods, problems with counterfeit
Chinese imports, and the small number of Cameroonians employed in
Chinese projects. China's image was damaged when Chinese were
discovered smuggling ivory from Cameroon to China in 2006 and 2007.
Many Cameroonians also resent illegal Chinese fishing in
Cameroonian waters. Pol/Econ LES witnessed this fishing when
accompanying visiting NOAA officials on a boat trip off the coast
of Kribi. In October 2008, the Cameroonian Navy also made a very
high profile and well-publicized seizure of a Chinese fishing
trawler that was illegally operating near Kribi. Traditional
Cameroonian fishermen are especially antagonistic towards
large-scale Chinese fishing operations. The Cameroonians believe
that the Chinese are over-harvesting the coastal areas and making
it difficult for traditional fishermen to survive.


12. (SBU) The GRC seeks to benefit from a full range of partners
and sees its relationship with China as a way to balance its
friendly relations with France and the United States. It
appreciates China's infrastructure support. No doubt some in
government also appreciate the Chinese willingness to look the
other way on corruption, democracy and human rights. However,
there is also a certain degree of caution among government
contacts. In a recent meeting with Ambassador, President Paul Biya
expressed frustration with China's global role.

Yaounde 00000095 003 of 003


Areas for Cooperation


13. (SBU) We are friendly with Chinese diplomats on a personal
level and invite them to many of our events. The Chinese invite us
to their large diplomatic receptions and occasionally to smaller
events. However, there are no areas in which we formally
coordinate or cooperate. Both the USG and the Chinese government
support often complementary efforts in the health, energy and
agriculture sectors, and in principle we and other donors believe
it would be positive to have a more collaborative relationship.
However, we see little scope for this at the moment. Our
approaches to development and attitudes toward corruption and
acceptable business practices are on opposite ends of the spectrum.
These divergences are compounded by differences in language and
working styles, as well as lingering mutual suspicions.


14. (SBU) Other donor embassies also see little room for
cooperation with the Chinese. The recently departed EU Chief of
Mission privately discouraged engaging the Chinese as they were not
"like-minded." The Multi-Donor Committee, established to
coordinate aid pursuant to the Paris Declaration, rarely sees
Chinese participation. French development officials, who carry
great weight in the development community in Cameroon, recently
said they too saw no prospect for cooperation with China.
Garvey

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