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By Samuel Burke, CNN|
The world's second superpower is pouring billions of dollars into Africa, running oil and mining firms all over the continent.
China is constructing everything from roads and bridges to stadiums and important government buildings.
The headquarters of the African Union, perhaps the most important political building in Africa, was built entirely with Chinese money, to the tune of $200 million.
And while China is aggressively investing in Africa, the U.S. appears to be sitting on the sidelines. China has passed the U.S. to become Africa's biggest trading partner.
Xi Jinping became China's new leader just two weeks ago and right now Xi is in Africa as one part of his first trip abroad as president.
Africa is the world's fastest growing market and has the world's richest mineral reserves, so obviously there's money to be made.
But do the Chinese want more?
Some argue that this is a new form of colonialism – a repeat of Africa's hated past.
Nigeria's central bank governor recently said, “China takes our primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism. Africa is now willingly opening itself up to a new form of imperialism."
Many Africans see a thin line between capitalism and colonialism.
Ian Bremmer is the president of the Eurasia Group and he told CNN’s Ali Vleshi that both Africans and Chinese are getting the benefit of this trade and investment.
“Clearly the Chinese are not picky where they invest. They typically go places that the West doesn't have as much.”
As a consequence, Bremmer says the Chinese tends to invest in less developed places that are less democratic and more authoritarian.
In those regions, the African governments may be seeing a lot of cash, but their people are seeing a lot less.
“The Chinese clearly are getting what they want in the deal either way,” Bremmer said.
Even in more democratic countries, the people may be uneasy with the Chinese presence. Bremmer recounted a Nigerian official who told him that the Chinese were by far the most effective trade partner that the Nigerians had – much more so than the United States because the Chinese write checks, plus they are willing to come in and build infrastructure.
And the African governments may prefer this, because unlike the U.S. investment, China doesn’t come with strings attached.
“In the last couple days, Xi Jinping has been down in Africa and he made it very clear that when China comes to Africa, there will not be any political strings. And he's clearly implying that while the United States wants you to be democratic, they want you to pay attention to human rights. So, my God, the Chinese won't do that.”
But Bremmer said there actually are a different set of strings attached.
“The Chinese quid pro quo typically involves lots of Chinese content, lots of Chinese labor that they're sending over to these countries to work, which hurts local unemployment issues. And of course, the availability of commodities, including food, to be exported to China. There's sometimes a Faustian bargain in these countries.”
It appears to be coming without geopolitical or other strategic interest, other than economic gain for China.
“I think it is ultimately good for Africans because Africa is getting governed better," Bremmer said. "Fifty percent of Africa's 1.1 billion people now live in cities. Their women are getting educated. As that happens, you start to see better demographics.
They're more sustainable. There's less poverty, of course, and the government improves. And when the government improves, the investment starts looking less colonial.”
Bremmer said if one day China's investments places like Nigeria come full circle and start looking more colonial, “that government has no one but themselves to blame.”