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President brings team of ministers to improve ties
China on Wednesday signed major financial agreements with Nigeria to give the most populous African nation a leg up in its rapid development.
The agreements were signed after a meeting between President Xi Jinping and visiting Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
One of the two financial agreements was on comprehensive financial cooperation to support Nigeria's economic development. The other was a preferential loan to help build four airport terminals in Nigeria.
The Associated Press reported that Nigeria was expected to get $1.1 billion in low-interest loans for much-needed infrastructure projects, including airports, roads and hydroelectric plants.
Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told AP that the loans for infrastructure are part of a $3 billion loan from China at interest rates of less than 3 percent.
Nigeria has benefited from low-interest loans that China has granted to African countries over the past years, including $500 million to build airport terminals in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano, more than $700 million to build a hydroelectric plant in Niger State, and $600 million for a light railway in the capital Abuja, Nigerian authorities have said.
Jonathan was accompanied by 19 of his top government officials on the four-day state visit starting on Tuesday, as he attempts to boost trade ties between Asia's economic locomotive and Africa's biggest oil producer.
A statement released by the Nigerian presidency on the eve of the visit said the team includes ministers from a variety of ministries.
"(China) has a very robust economy and that is why when I was coming, I came with quite an amount of cabinet ministers and very senior government functionaries," Jonathan told Xi at the start of their meeting.
The presidents vowed to push forward bilateral cooperation in many areas, from infrastructure construction and energy to agriculture and defense.
Niu Xinchun, president of the Institute of American Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said the large delegation Jonathan brought with him reflects the great importance Nigeria attaches to China.
Nigeria is a good market for China's industrial overcapacity, said Niu. "China's transfer of industrial know-how to Nigeria will improve China's own industrial structure," he added.
He Wenping, a researcher of African studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said a reduction in the demand for oil on the part of the US is pushing Nigeria to strengthen ties with other major oil importers such as China.
Revenues generated from oil account for about 80 percent of Nigerian government revenues.
Nigeria's policy of economic development through infrastructure construction also urges the government to seek financial and technical support from China, said He from the CASS.
"Nigeria is among the most important countries in Africa, with vast influence," He added. "Development of China-Nigeria relations is beneficial to the two countries and is also meaningful to the regions."
He said that the ties are very promising. "China and Nigeria can greatly promote the cooperation in infrastructure construction and other areas. Nigeria is the first African country to include RMB in the foreign exchange reserves, which shows its recognition of the value of China's economy."
Reuben Abati, special media adviser to Jonathan, said shortly before the president left for China that "it is in our strategic national interest to have a very good relationship" with China.
"China has shown a lot of interest and support for the president's determination to diversify the nation's economy. So you find China supporting our agricultural program."
During his stay in China, Jonathan will also meet with Premier Li Keqiang and top legislator Zhang Dejiang, and will hold separate meetings with leaders of Chinese conglomerates such as Huawei, Sinopec and ZTE.
The president will also travel to Daqing in Northeast China's Heilongjiang province.
Zhang Fan, Xinhua and AFP contributed to this story.
(China Daily 07/11/2013 page11)