Mon, Feb 09, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Hu Jintao to launch whistlestop tour of Saudi Arabia, Africa

AFP , BEIJING

Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) will launch a whistlestop tour of Saudi Arabia and Africa tomorrow in a trip expected to focus more on shoring up political ties and less on securing energy supplies.

Hu’s one-week trip will take him to Saudi Arabia, China’s biggest source of oil imports, but the four countries that he will then visit in Africa — Mali, Senegal, Tanzania and Mauritius — are not endowed with vast resources.

“The top Chinese leadership has spent a lot of time visiting oil-rich countries in the past,” said Barry Sautman, a China specialist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

“But it also has a deliberate policy of trying to send its leaders everywhere [in Africa], because the political influence of all African countries is important to support China in international forums,” he said.

China has in recent years worked hard to cultivate closer partnerships with Africa — a move that has caused concern in the West as Chinese influence on the continent has grown.

Much of the world’s attention has focused on China’s drive to secure natural resources from African states to meet its huge energy demands.

But Assistant Chinese Foreign Minister Zhai Jun (翟俊) said Hu’s visit to Africa — his fourth since he came to power in 2003 — and China’s interest in the continent, was not dominated by oil or natural resources.

“We have a very good and profound traditional friendship with African countries and our cooperation is not limited to energy or resources cooperation,” he told reporters on Friday.

Zhai said Hu would announce fresh assistance to African states during his trip and pledged that Beijing would meet its target of doubling aid to the continent in the three years to this year.

Some in the West have criticized China’s “no-strings-attached” attitude toward aid, accusing the Asian giant of plundering Africa’s resources with no regard for political, environmental or social consequences.

Adama Gaye, an associate researcher at John Hopkins University and author of a book on Sino-African relations, said China’s approach could backfire if it didn’t address some of these concerns.

“It must avoid appearing to be allied with the continent’s retrograde forces, as [Africa’s] civil society is looking for more transparency in its relations and the end of purely government-centered relations,” he said.

Zhai defended China’s role in Africa.

“Cooperation is based on mutual benefit, it serves the interests of both China and people in Africa who have benefited greatly from the cooperation,” he said.

China’s trade with Africa increased to US$106.8 billion last year from just under US$40 billion in 2005, the Chinese commerce ministry said.

The World Bank has also spoken out in support of China, saying its increased presence in Africa had led to a massive infrastructure revolution there that was vital to reducing poverty.

Sautman said Hu’s visit was also aimed at quelling rumors that China was going to retreat from Africa because of the global economic crisis.

“Some people actually say this provides an opportunity for China to further displace Western influence on Africa,” he said.

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