Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Chinese Leader on Another African Tour


9:19 MECCA TIME, 6:19 GMT

Hu's Africa visit fuels controversy

China's president heads to Africa on Tuesday on a trip aimed at enhancing existing ties and expanding its influence across the continent.

But Hu Jintao's visit to the continent - his third in as many years - is surrounded by growing scepticism over the Asian giant's role in Africa.

China has been criticised for putting profits above people's lives, particularly in Sudan where it has been accused of ignoring human rights abuses to secure oil for its burgeoning economy.

But China says Hu's 12-day tour with eight scheduled stops will boost peace and stability in the region.

Zhai Jun, China's assistant foreign minister, said that besides boosting bilateral ties, Hu would be looking to broker peace in the war-torn Darfur region.

"With Sudan, we have co-operation in many aspects, including military co-operation. In this, we have nothing to hide," he said before Hu's trip.

China has been accused of fuelling violence in some African countries by providing military and economic support.

The Chinese leader will also sign a series of economic deals during his visit.

"I don't know whether they will include energy agreements, but I can say the energy co-operation between China and Sudan is very successful … if we have any energy agreements I think it is only natural," said Zhai.

Half of Sudan's daily oil production is exported to China, according to Sudanese figures, with total trade between the two topping $2.9 bn last year.

China's overtures to Africa include billions of dollars in aid and debt relief.

Last year, China announced $10 bn in assistance for the period 2006 to 2009.

Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at People's University in Beijing, expects Hu to urge Sudan to allow United Nations peacekeepers into Darfur.

"[He] wants to persuade Sudan to not reject the UN resolution and to co-operate with the UN.

This will bring moral and diplomatic pressure on Sudan and also help China’s ties with the US, the European Union and greater Africa."

Lawrence Rossin, of the US-based Save Darfur Coalition, said China's leaders would have to make a decision about Sudan.

"Either their quiet diplomacy is working... or they're going to have to realise that [Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, is] stiffing them, too.

"And I don't think a country like China should take 'no' for an answer," Rossin said.

Soaring business

Trade between China and Africa has soared fourfold this decade, totalling $40 bn in 2005.

Francis Kornegay, an analyst at the Centre for Policy Studies in Johannesburg, said China offered African countries a "countervailing force to US hegemony" by offering aid with fewer strings attached.

Hu's trip, which includes visits to Cameroon, Namibia, Mozambique and the Seychelles, will focus on further boosting trade and following through on the promises of aid, including debt-relief and moves to alleviate poverty.

China's spreading influence across Africa has also seen increased resistance and disputes.

In South Africa last month, trade unions have complained that Chinese textile imports were devastating the domestic industry.

Thabo Mbeki, the South African president, said that Africa needed to guard against allowing Chinese relations to develop into a "colonial relationship".

Western colonisers were accused of taking the continent's natural resources without improving their lives.

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