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President to visit Africa to consolidate friendship
By Li Xiaokun (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-02-04 07:31

President Hu Jintao will pay state visits to four African nations as well as Saudi Arabia from Tuesday to Feb 17 in his first overseas trip this year, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu announced Tuesday.

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Analysts said the trips to Mali, Senegal, Tanzania and Mauritius would help prove Beijing's sincerity in consolidating friendship with the continent.

Jiang said the purpose of the visit was to help in "further consolidating China's friendship with these countries and promoting the implementation of the measures announced at the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation".

At the Beijing summit held in November 2006, President Hu announced an eight-step package to provide assistance to Africa in three years. "This November will be the deadline for China to fulfill its promises," Xu Weizhong, an expert on African studies with China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told China Daily.

Zeng Qiang, another researcher with the institute, said the Chinese government had completed roughly 80 percent of its work in fulfilling the promises.

In an interview with the Beijing News last month, Xu Jinghu, director of the African department under the Foreign Ministry, said China has signed financial aid deals with 48 African countries and preferential loan agreements with 20 nations.

At the Beijing summit, China also promised to cancel 168 debts owed by 33 African countries, which matured by the end of 2005, and 150 of them have been settled, he added.

Premier Wen Jiabao, when meeting with Angolan President Jos Eduardo dos Santos at the end of last year, said that China would not reduce its aid to Africa despite the global financial crisis.

Hu's Africa visit will also indicate that Beijing values the importance of Africa not on its resources, as some western media have suggested, but on the friendship and from a long-term view, said Xu Weizhong.

Strengthening cooperation in the financial crisis will also be a major topic during the visit, Xu said. Trade volume between China and Africa reached $106.8 billion last year, fulfilling the goal of $100 billion two years ahead of the agenda.

"And there might even be a tiny increase in Chinese investment in Africa, as the financial crisis has forced Chinese enterprises to explore other markets," Xu Weizhong said. Other benefits Hu's visit might bring to Africa include expanded cooperation between China and Africa on infrastructure construction, he said.

"That's exactly what Africa needs. The ongoing 12th African Union Summit of heads of state has even picked the infrastructure issue as their theme," he said. Hu's visit to Senegal will be the first visit by a top Chinese leader after the two countries re-established diplomatic relations in 2005.

Senegal broke relations with Beijing and turned to Taiwan in 1996, but it severed relations with the island nine years later. Hu last traveled to eight African countries on a visit in 2007.