Leaders of more than 40 African nations are arriving in Beijing for a giant summit aimed at cementing trade relations between China and Africa. China has invited the leaders as part of a bid to secure deals for oil and other natural resources to fuel its booming economy.
For days, the Chinese capital has been preparing for its African guests, with red lanterns decorating the streets and huge, colorful billboards promoting friendship between China and the nations of Africa.
At a ceremony inside China's National Museum Thursday, Chinese officials launched a series of commemorative postage stamps and an African art exhibit.
Behind the fanfare are as many as 2,500 deals on oil and other resources that China wants to purchase from African nations. Some of the agreements are to be signed when President Hu Jintao meets with the visitors.
In all, the summit - called the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation - will include 48 African nations, which will be represented by their leaders or by official delegations.
Among those attending is Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, whose country reached an energy exploration deal with China this week.
"I expect that all of Africa will look at China's great transformation, that we'll see the cooperation that is now going on between Africa and China, and identify new means by which we can support each other," she said.
The Liberian leader's words reflect the confidence that many African leaders bring with them. A member of the Nigerian delegation, who preferred not to give his name, said that unlike in the past, when colonial powers drew resources from Africa, this time Africans are negotiating on an equal footing.
"The other one was an accident of history," he noted. "We were colonized, brutally raped, and both our human and natural resources were taken away. But this time around, we don't see it as neo-colonialism. We look at a situation where whatever is going to result will be a win-win situation. We are not going cup-in-hand. We are going on the basis of what we have."
What Africa has is an abundance of the oil that China needs. As the world's second largest consumer of oil behind the United States, China last year imported 38.4 million tons of oil from Africa.
Some in the West have criticized China for pouring money into African treasuries while ignoring human rights and environmental concerns on the continent.
China has rejected such criticism, saying it abides by a policy of non-intervention.