Sat, Feb 03, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Chinese leader `cements friendship' with Sudan

INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE As President Hu Jintao arrived in Khartoum, experts said it was possible China could influence the government's actions on Darfur

AFP , KHARTOUM

International pressure was on China to try its hand at peace diplomacy yesterday as Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) arrived in war-wracked Sudan, the highlight of an eight-nation tour of Africa.

During his two-day visit to Khartoum, Hu was expected to hold talks with Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir on the situation in the western region of Darfur, where a conflict between the government and rebels has been raging unabated.

In a statement handed out to reporters at Khartoum airport, Hu said the visit was "expected to cement the friendship and expand cooperation between China and Sudan."

China's energy-hungry economy -- the fourth-largest in the world -- is badly in need of Sudan and other African countries' resources.

"I believe this visit will not only boost bilateral ties, but also peace and stability in this region," Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun (翟俊) told journalists before Hu set off on his tour.

No other country has more clout over the Khartoum government than China, which absorbs 60 percent of Sudan's total oil output and has repeatedly used its UN Security Council veto power to block further sanctions on the regime.

Led by Washington, the international community has been pressing Khartoum to accept the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Darfur, where African Union troops have failed to quell the bloodshed.

But Beshir has consistently rejected such a move, accusing the UN and Western powers of seeking to invade his country and plunder its resources.

"If the Chinese put some pressure on Khartoum, it might have some potential," said the Save Darfur coalition's Larry Rossin, who recently traveled to Khartoum with US envoy Bill Richardson.

"It is encouraging that the Chinese government has been trying to have a very cooperative partnership and relationship with all African countries," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was quoted by news agency Xinhua as saying.

China has had deep economic ties with Sudan since the 1990s, when other foreign companies pulled out because of the raging north-south civil war.

Trade deals are expected to be signed during Hu's visit, further boosting bilateral trade that reached US$2.9 billion in the first 11 months of last year.

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