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Loan for Namibia on Hu’s African swing

Chinese President Hu Jintao on Monday extended more cash and loans as he toured Namibia on the latest leg of an African swing marked by Beijing’s largesse to states where its economic presence is booming.

Hu signed agreements with his Namibian counterpart Hifikepunye Pohamba extending a grant of $4,1-million and a soft loan for the same amount.

The two sides inked pacts on economic and technical cooperation and boosting group tourism from China. Part of the Chinese grant was meant to be used to build two schools.

Hu flew into Namibia earlier on Monday from nearby Zambia where he had pledged $800-million to develop the country’s copper mines and waived nearly $8-million of its debt.

From the airport Hu was whisked away for a briefing with Chinese officials on the ground before starting talks with Pohamba.

Speaking before the talks, Hu said: ”It was my long cherished wish to visit Namibia. Your country is one of the youngest nations in Africa.”

”We established diplomatic ties 17 years ago and are cooperating in the political, economic, educational, health and business fields and defence,” he said, adding that bilateral trade had burgeoned to $250-million in 2006.

In a statement earlier, Hu underscored that China was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with Namibia, a one-time German colony which only gained independence from South Africa in 1990 after a lengthy civil war.

China is looking to Africa to feed much of its growing energy needs, but its close links with regimes in countries such as Sudan — the second stop on his sweep through the continent — have raised concerns in the West.

Hailing the rapid expansion in ties, Chinese Vice-Commerce Minister Wei Jianguo said on Monday that trade between China and Africa had last year totalled $55,5-billion, a year-on-year growth of more than 30% for the fifth consecutive year, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

And on Monday, a senior Chinese official rubbished claims that Beijing’s mushrooming presence in Africa, the world’s poorest continent, amounted to sheer exploitation.

”The label of neocolonialism cannot be stuck on China,” said Deputy Trade Minister Wei Jianguo, according to Xinhua.

Wei said the partnership between China and Africa rested on ”equality, mutual benefit and economic cooperation in which both sides were winners”.

Namibia, a mainly arid country with a population of little over a million, is teeming with the kind of natural resources, such as copper, that China has been hoping to get its hands on.

Since 2004, Namibia has also been supplying the regime in Beijing with uranium oxide.

While in Zambia, Hu and his counterpart Levy Mwanawasa announced that a ”special trade and economic zone” would be set up in the copper-rich country’s mining town of Chambeshi, north of the capital Lusaka.

Namibia is Hu’s fifth stop in Africa after Cameroon, Liberia, Sudan and Zambia. He travels on Tuesday to South Africa and then to Mozambique and the Seychelles.

Before Hu’s departure for Africa, Beijing said it would write off debts owed by 33 African countries as part of a multibillion-dollar pledge made last year to help fast-track the continent’s development.

China has made no apologies for its close military, economic and political ties with governments in Africa, even those spurned by the West, such as Sudan and Zimbabwe.

China has also faced widespread accusations from African businesses of dumping cheap and sub-standard goods on African markets.

In a statement issued ahead of Hu’s arrival, the Namibia National Society for Human Rights slammed the dumping of goods and warned that it could lead to an ”unfortunate” rise in xenophobia against the small Chinese community. – Sapa-AFP

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