China is now Africa's second largest trading partner, having overtaken former colonial power France last year and coming up fast on the US.
There are between 500,000 and 750,000 Chinese working in Africa, mostly in resources and infrastructure projects driven primarily by China's insatiable appetite for raw materials but also by its desire to exercise political power in a region where the west often fears to tread.
But China's ambitions in Africa only sporadically make the headlines in the west and there has been little attempt to analyse the big picture — until now.
Serge Michel, western Africa correspondent for Le Monde is co-author with Michel Beuret of a new book China Safari: On the Trail of Beijing's Expansion in Africa.
To coincide with US President Obama's recent trip to Ghana, Michel recently spoke to Democracy Now!, an online news programme, about some of the implications of China's growing presence in Africa.
With no colonial past and no political pre-conditions, China is bringing investment and badly-needed infrastructure to a continent that has been largely ignored by Western companies or nations. And that is to be applauded, Michel argues.
China's willingness to do business with Africa offers the possibility of real progress for some countries that the west prefers to write off as “basketcase” economies.
Nevertheless, he fears that development model it is trying to impose, based on economic growth above other considerations, risks perpetuating the continent's grave deficiencies particularly in areas like democracy and human rights.
It is naïve, of course, to expect China, a country with only one political party, to be concerned about bringing democracy to Africa . But the fragile nature of government in some of the countries where China is present — Somalia being a good example — means that Chinese companies rarely have the checks and balances that are taken for granted in other parts of the world.
They thus run the risk of operating in the same heavy-handed and self-interested way that their western predecessors did back in colonial times, and there already signs of disquiet at China's growing presence in several African countries.