Chinese premier Wen returns home after clinching deals in Africa

Wen arrived back in China Sunday morning after concluding his whirl-wind official visits to Egypt, Ghana, the Republic of Congo, Angola, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda, Xinhua news agency reported.

Wen’s trip ‘ the third high-level Chinese diplomatic visit to Africa in less than six months ‘ follows visits earlier this year by Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and President Hu Jintao, who clinched important oil exploration deals in several states.

The tour to the world’s poorest continent has aroused concern that Beijing’s diplomatic offensive was aimed at countering the United States and sparked criticism that China’s hunt for natural resources was in disregard of human rights.

Wen rejected those criticisms and stressed that China followed a policy of non-interference in other countries’ affairs.

Instead, he talked optimistically of a new strategic partnership with Africa which would enhance political equality and mutual trust as well as promoting economic and political ties.

“The Chinese government, guided by the principle of sincerity, friendship, equality, mutual benefit and common development, is committed to building a new type of strategic partnership with Africa,” Wen said in South Africa.

Trade between China and Africa reached around 40 billion dollars in 2005, a rise of 35 percent from a year earlier and almost four times higher than in 2001.

In addition, China has given 5.5 billion dollars in assistance to Africa, sent 16,000 health workers to 43 different countries on the continent and reduced or cancelled the debt of 31 nations over the past 50 years. It has also promised steps to expand economic and trade ties and help Africa by offering zero-tariff treatment for some exports and increased aid and debt relief, while at the same time helping to build infrastructure.

In Wen’s last stop, Uganda, agreements signed include economic and technical cooperation, energy and infrastructure, mining, textiles, oil exploration and tourism.

In Tanzania, Wen signed agreements on technical and economic cooperation, provision of anti-malaria drugs, construction of rural primary schools and institutes to promote agriculture and human health in the east African nation.

In addition, China offered to lend money to rehabilitate the Tanzania-Zambia railway which it helped build in the 1990s.

In South Africa, the two sides signed agreements to restrict importation of Chinese textiles to protect local industries, as well as boost peaceful nuclear cooperation and a major deal with the country’s petroleum giant to explore the possibility of turning coal into oil.

China’s growing thirst for oil also saw the country enter a joint venture early this year with Angola, Wen’s third stop during the tour, which has since become China’s top crude oil source, surpassing Saudi Arabia.

In exchange, Beijing is funding the construction of a railroad linking the west coast city of Benguela to the mineral-rich area on Angola’s eastern border with the Democratic Republic of Congo among other projects.

Zhang Xiang, vice president of the China Society of African Studies, a government think tank, said Africa could learn lessons about development from China.

“In the past China was poor, but now it’s developing very fast… the African countries are increasingly willing to cooperate with China, because they want to find out how China developed so fast,” Zhang said.

July 2006
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