'If the British were our masters yesterday, the Chinese have taken their place.' Likened to one race deciding to adopt a new home on another planet, Beijing has launched its so-called 'One China In Africa' policy because of crippling pressure on its own natural resources in a country where the population has almost trebled from 500 million to 1.3 billion in 50 years. While accounting for a fifth of the world's population, its oil consumption has risen 35-fold in the past decade and Africa is now providing a third of it; imports of steel, copper and aluminium have also shot up, with Beijing devouring 80 per cent of world supplies.

And Africa, with non-existent health and safety rules to protect against shoddy and dangerous goods, is the perfect destination. Chinese-made war planes roar through the African sky, bombing opponents.

The result of China's demand for raw materials and its sales of products to Africa is that turnover in trade between Africa and China has risen from £5million annually a decade ago to £6billion today. Chinese-made assault rifles and grenades are being used to fuel countless murderous civil wars, often over the materials the Chinese are desperate to buy. Recently, a giant container ship from China was due to deliver its cargo of three million rounds of AK-47 ammunition, 3,000 rocket-propelled grenades and 1,500 mortars to President Robert Mugabe's regime.

In the greatest movement of people the world has ever seen, China is secretly working to turn the entire continent into a new colony.

Reminiscent of the West's imperial push in the 18th and 19th centuries - but on a much more dramatic, determined scale - China's rulers believe Africa can become a 'satellite' state, solving its own problems of over-population and shortage of natural resources at a stroke. Lucrative deals are being struck to buy its commodities - oil, platinum, gold and minerals. The continent's new Chinese elite can be seen everywhere, shopping at their own expensive boutiques, driving Mercedes and BMW limousines, sending their children to exclusive private schools.

Today, Mugabe says: 'We have turned East, where the sun rises, and given our backs to the West, where the sun sets.' Despite Britain's commendable colonial legacy of a network of roads, railways and schools, the British are now being shunned.

According to one veteran diplomat: 'China is easier to do business with because it doesn't care about human rights in Africa - just as it doesn't care about them in its own country.

Exclusive, gated compounds, serving only Chinese food, and where no blacks are allowed, are being built all over the continent.

'African cloths' sold in markets on the continent are now almost always imported, bearing the legend: 'Made in China'.

From Nigeria in the north, to Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Angola in the west, across Chad and Sudan in the east, and south through Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, China has seized a vice-like grip on a continent which officials have decided is crucial to the superpower's long-term survival.