China eyes greater role in African affairs

Updated: 2007-05-12 18:41

China announced on Thursday the appointment of a special representative for African affairs, a measure that analysts say shows China is trying to exert more influence in the region.

"China-Africa relations have developed rapidly since the Beijing summit which gathered leaders and officials from over 40 African countries last November," said Liu Naiya, an expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS).

Chinese President Hu Jintao's eight-nation Africa tour in February also attracted international attention. "It is quite necessary to create this position of special representative as it shows that China plans to play a more active and constructive role in African issues," said Liu.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday welcomed China's decision to appoint the special representative, calling it "very helpful" and saying that she expected to see "a stronger Chinese role" in the region.

Liu Guijin, a 61-year-old veteran diplomat, was appointed to the post. Former ambassador to Zimbabwe and South Africa, he has been engaged in African affairs for more than 25 years.

"Liu is prudent and self-assured which will help him coordinate relations with other sides on African issues," said Wang Hongyi of the China Institute of International Studies.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said that Liu would initially focus on Darfur as the region continues to attract international concern.

The special representative will head for Africa "very soon", according to a diplomatic source.

"The Darfur issue will be the first big challenge for the new representative, "said Liu Naya.

So far China has offered 80 million yuan (about 10.4 million U.S. dollars) in humanitarian aid to Darfur and will send a 275-member engineering unit to the region to participate in the implementation of the second phase of a UN support plan.

However, Beijing's efforts are still the subject of international criticism and calls of a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympics can still be heard.

"Such people turn deaf ears to China's positive efforts and are hostile towards the growing China-Africa relations, attempting to divide China and Africa by creating difficulties for China on the Darfur issue," Wang Hongyi said.

China's Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun last month labeled the advocators of the Olympic boycott as "either ignorant or ill-natured".

Wang Hongyi believes the Darfur issue is "a big test" for China's diplomacy. "If it can be handled properly, it will help to dispel international doubts and promote peace and stability in the region," Wang added.

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