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Xi's travels aimed at closer ties with BRICS, Africa

By Zhang Yuwei | China Daily | Updated: 2013-04-01 11:02

China's Xi Jinping wrapped up the first foreign trips of his young presidency in the Republic of Congo on Saturday. The week of visits, which also included Russia and South Africa, were seen as a move to strengthen Chinese relations with African countries and emerging economies.

In the Republic of Congo, of which China is the No 1 trading partner, Xi concluded his visit by signing deals that include a river port in Oyo, in the central African country's resource-rich Cuvette area, and a seaport in Pointe-Noire that can export mineral ore.

Xi said he wanted to elevate relations with Congo to "a new and higher level".

"The future, the development of China, will be an unprecedented opportunity for Africa, and Africa's development will be the same for my country," Xi said.

China has become a major trading partner across Africa in recent years. Trade between the continent and the world's second-biggest economy has doubled, to more than $200 billion a year, since 2007, while Chinese investment amounts to $20 billion.

"This will continue under President Xi," said Jon Taylor, a China watcher and a political-science professor at the University of St Thomas in Houston.

"China differs from the US and Europe by providing more infrastructure construction and investment in exchange for development, with an eye on trade relations," he said. "With such strong economic ties, it should come as little surprise that China's development model is viewed by African leaders as viable as the Western development model."

A highlight of his trip was in the South African port city of Durban, where Xi attended the fifth BRICS summit, which brought together his fellow heads of state from Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa. The five nations together represent a fifth of the global economy and about 43 percent of the world's population.

"As for Xi's pledge for 'never-ending support for Africa' at the BRICS summit, it is far from surprising, given the history of Sino-African relations," Taylor said.

Although a much-touted agreement to form a BRICS development bank wasn't reached, the bloc did agree to create a $100 billion contingency fund - a bailout mechanism requiring each member's central bank to maintain pooled reserves among its own currency holdings.

John Kirton, who heads a BRICS research team at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, called the intra-bloc fund "a substantial step" that will benefit the countries involved and the global community.

"But it is still subject to meeting legal requirements in member states and is rather small compared to the new firewall funds recently created at the International Monetary Fund and the European Union," he said.

Xi, who took office on March 14, chose for his first presidential visit Russia, China's giant neighbor. The decision drew attention from many observers who regarded it as an emphasis on relations with emerging-economy countries.

"The Russian portion was partly symbolic, partly practical," Taylor said, adding that by "playing the Russia card", Xi achieved "some tangible economic benefits, particularly in oil and natural gas, as well as some important multipolar diplomatic points".

The two sides signed cooperation agreements, dubbed "contracts of the century" because of their value and duration, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Sunday.

Choosing Russia as the first stop on Xi's travels showed the prominent, distinct nature of Beijing's relations with Moscow, Wang said.

Taylor described the trip as "quite successful" and filled with "diplomatic goodwill, combined with tangible, positive economic results".

Ann Lee, an economics professor at New York University, said promises that Xi made during his travels are "far-sighted and consistent with China's official stance to be a peaceful and responsible power".

"The only problem is that the Western mainstream media doesn't share this information and only focuses on the negatives of China to spin a different story," Lee said.

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