Tue, Feb 06, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Hu Jintao visits Namibia

INVESTMENT Before leaving Zambia, the Chinese president announced plans to set up Africa's first special trade and economic zone in Lusaka by 2010

AFP , LUSAKA

Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) headed yesterday to Namibia, his fifth stop on an African tour, after pledging US$800 million in investments, debt write-offs and a "showcase" free trade zone in Zambia, where Beijing's economic juggernaut has sparked tensions.

China is looking to Africa to feed much of its growing need for energy and natural resources, but its close links with regimes in countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe have raised concerns in the West.

Zambia was Hu's fourth stop in Africa after Cameroon, Liberia and Sudan. After Namibia he will go on to South Africa, Mozambique and the Seychelles.

Hu and his Zambian counterpart Levy Mwanawasa announced that a "special trade and economic zone" would be set up in the copper-rich country's mining town of Chambeshi, north of the capital Lusaka.

"This economic trade zone is the first of its kind in Africa. It is also a showcase of Africa-China business cooperation," said Hu, whose country's avid courtship of Africa has fueled charges that Beijing was only interested in exploiting the continent's mineral and oil wealth.

Hu had earlier pledged US$800 million to develop Zambia's copper mines, waived nearly US$8 million of Zambia's debt due last year and vowed to give US$150,000 to help with damage caused by recent floods.

The two presidents also said firms operating in the trade zone, to be built between now and 2010, would benefit from tax breaks and other concessions.

Mwanawasa, who has been attacked by Zambia's main opposition leader, Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front, stressed that the free trade zone should provide a level playing field.

"I wish to suggest that both Chinese and Zambian investors must be given equal business opportunities at the economic zone," Mwanawasa told a joint press conference.

"It is my government's hope that more and more Chinese investors will partner with Zambian businesses in establishing companies at the economic zone. This is important for our citizen's empowerment program," he said.

Bilateral trade between Zambia and China, the third-largest foreign investor in the country, grew 11.8 percent last year to US$316 million, the Zambia-China Business Forum said in a statement on Sunday.

Hu's itinerary for Sunday was severely curtailed by Lusaka in the wake of planned protests against the alleged exploitation of local workers by Chinese firms and the supposed plunder of the country's mineral resources.

Late yesterday, Sata said the Patriotic Front would sack a senior official for attending a state welcome for Hu. He said that Susan Nakazwe, the mayor of Lusaka, would be axed for insubordination.

Nakazwe had been ordered to boycott all state functions hosted for Hu during his three-day tour, but she went to the airport on Saturday to receive him with other Zambian officials, the party's general secretary said.

"She will be sacked for indiscipline. She was told not to attend any of those functions but she decided to ignore party orders," Guy Scott said.

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