/ 11 February 2007

Chinese leader wraps up tour of Africa

Chinese President Hu Jintao on Saturday headed home after completing a 12-day, eight-nation tour of Africa where he spread China’s largesse with gifts and grants and a series of trade deals.

The visit to the Seychelles, which began on Friday, was the last stop in Hu’s trip, his third visit to Africa since taking office in 2003.

A primary goal of Hu’s trip was to continue building economic and political ties with resource-rich Africa, increasingly important for fuelling China’s growth.

In Victoria, Beijing announced $12-million in aid for the Seychelles, some of which will offset balance of payments support in the Indian Ocean island known for its sun-drenched and pristine beaches that often host celebrity visitors.

Seychelles President James Michel said he had secured a preferential loan pledge of about $39-million from Hu, instead of the original bid for $100-million. The money will be provided by China’s Axim bank.

Officials said China had shown an interest in the Seychelles Exclusive Economic Zone, which has a large fishery, a warning to the French and Spanish industrial vessels that exploit the resource.

Before Hu began the tour in Cameroon on January 30, China announced 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.

On each stop in Africa, Hu announced loans and grants, as well as signing deals to boost trade, which reached $55,5-billion last year, according to official Chinese figures.


Hu consistently stressed throughout his tour that Africa had as much to benefit as China from the burgeoning relationship, which has seen trade between Beijing and the continent triple in the past five years.

During a keynote speech in South Africa, which is China’s largest trading partner in Africa, Hu said his country would ”certainly not do anything harmful to the interests of Africa and its people”.

He said almost a century of foreign exploitation in China by Western powers had permanently scarred Beijing and therefore it was against any form of ”colonialism” or ”slavery”.

”China and Africa have extensive common ground and a fine tradition of cooperation on major international issues. It serves our shared interest to strengthen coordination in international affairs,” he said.

China’s courting of Africa has caused tremors in the West in recent years as Chinese influence there has risen significantly. While Western businesses have seen Chinese firms secure contracts to exploit Africa’s natural resources, human rights groups and some governments have accused China of cooperating with regimes accused of directly human rights abuses, notably Sudan.

The European Investment Bank, the European Union’s financing arm, warned on Thursday that aggressive Chinese lending in Africa could drive up debt levels dangerously.

The bank’s president, Philippe Maystadt, called on Chinese banks to apply tougher lending conditions based on the ”economic viability” of projects and ”good governance”, and impose environmental and social requirements.


The growing influence of Beijing has also sparked resentment among workers in several countries, particularly in Zambia, where Chinese firms in the mining, textile and construction industries have been accused of paying low wages, lax safety standards and bringing in foreign workers.

During his visit to the Southern African country Hu announced that China would invest $800-million in the development of copper mines in the ”special economic zone” of Chambishi in the north. His visit to a Chinese-run copper mine in Chambishi, where 50 Zambians died in a mine explosion in 2005, had to be cancelled after reports of planned protests.

Hopes that China could turn the tide of months of failed diplomacy in Darfur were dashed when only mild pressure at most was applied on Khartoum during Hu’s meetings with Sudanese leaders.

As Sudan’s major trading and investment partner, China was seen as having enough leverage to convince Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir to accept United Nations peacekeepers for Darfur, where at least 200 000 people have died and more than two million have fled their homes.

After visiting Cameroon, Hu went on to visit Liberia, Sudan, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique before heading to the Seychelles. — Sapa-AFP