Jia Qinglin
Jia Qinglin, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, delivers a speech during the African Union Summit. (Peter Delarue / January 29, 2012)

In a sign of its growing dependency on Africa for resources, China pledged to provide nearly $100 million in aid for the continent only a day after 29 of its overseas workers were kidnapped by Sudanese rebels.

Jia Qinglin, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, met with leaders of the African Union in Addis Ababa Sunday in a pre-scheduled summit aimed at strengthening ties with a region increasingly vital to China’s energy needs.

The meeting took place as Chinese officials were also working to free its hostages abducted Saturday in the war-torn state of South Kordofan. The Chinese workers were reportedly building a road for Sinohydro Corp., the world’s largest hydropower plant builder.

Fourteen of the workers were said to have been rescued Monday, though the whereabouts of the remaining Chinese are unknown, the Sudan News Agency reported.

Citing competition for and restrictions of buying oil from more developed parts of the world, China has increasingly turned to Africa in the past decade to help fuel its booming economy at home.

“We have always regarded assistance and support between China and Africa as mutual and have never attached political strings to our assistance to Africa,” state-run media quoted Jia saying Sunday in Ethiopia.

In return, China has provided financial aid and manpower to build infrastructure in the largely underdeveloped continent. Beijing’s hands-off approach dealing with pariah states such as Sudan has drawn sharp international criticism.

China, the world’s second largest consumer of oil, has often refused to go along with international community if resources are at stake. Beijing has shunned calls to boycott Iranian oil and remains one of the country’s last remaining customers.

China is now the top buyer of Sudanese oil and is also a major investor in Libya where it prizes the country’s “light sweet” or low-sulfur crude to make gasoline.

The foray into Africa has been dangerous. China had to evacuate 36,000 workers from Libya last year after its civil war lead to the overthrow and eventual slaying of strongman Moammar Kadafi.

A report Monday in Canada’s Globe and Mail said the 54-nation African Union (which includes Sudan) would will likely forge closer ties to China since the death of Kadafi, who had been a major source of financial support.

The $95 million China pledged in aid was more than a third of the group’s $270 million annual budget, the paper reported.

Even the union’s $200 million grand headquarters, furniture and all, was financed and built by China.