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China's Hu to visit Africa, Saudi Arabia: govt

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Feb 3, 2009
China announced Tuesday that President Hu Jintao would visit Africa and Saudi Arabia in his first overseas trip of 2009, building on Chinese efforts to strengthen ties with the resource-rich regions.

Hu will travel to Mali, Senegal, Tanzania and Mauritius, as well as Saudi Arabia, from February 10 to 17, foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.

"He will hold meetings with leaders of those countries and exchange views on further strengthening China's friendly cooperative relations... and on international and regional issues of common concern," she said.

China has in recent years worked hard to develop closer partnerships with African nations and Saudi Arabia, the world's leading oil producer, as its demand for energy has sky-rocketed.

Hu's last trip to Africa was at the beginning of 2007, and this will be his fourth visit there since becoming president in 2003.

China has also in recent years made a tradition of kicking off its diplomatic year by sending a high-profile delegation to the continent.

This year it maintained that trend by sending Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi last month to Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi and South Africa.

China's relationship with some African countries has drawn criticism in the West due to its links to regimes with poor human rights records, including those in Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Hu's eight-nation tour of Africa in 2007 took him to Sudan and included a meeting with Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir, who is now being probed by the International Criminal Court, a process that could lead to genocide charges.

Other critics have accused China of simply plundering Africa's resources with no regard for the environmental, political and economic consequences.

In Zambia, Hu was forced to cancel a visit to a Chinese-run copper mine where 50 Zambians had died in an explosion in 2005, fearing protests by workers complaining of alleged exploitation and the alleged plunder of the country's mineral resources.

The World Bank however said last year that China's overtures to Africa had led to a massive infrastructure revolution on the continent that was vital to reducing poverty.

In November, the top executive of the African Union (AU) -- a pan-African body of 53 nations -- also warned of serious consequences if China went into recession.

"If you have a recession in China, which apparently will be the case, we will have a reduction in the demand of our raw materials," AU commission chairman Jean Ping said in Addis Ababa.

"If it decreases in volume, it will also decrease in prices, so you can see the consequences for us."

China's trade with Africa increased to 106.8 billion dollars last year from just under 40 billion dollars in 2005, according to the Chinese commerce ministry.

Trade between Saudi Arabia and China has also increased substantially over the past few years, totalling 36 billion dollars for the first 10 months of 2008 as compared with 16 billion dollars in 2005, official figures show.

Hu's last trip to Saudi Arabia was in April 2006, three months after King Abdullah paid a historic visit to Beijing, marking an increased cooperation between the two nations, particularly in the oil sector.

The king's visit was the first by a Saudi ruler to China since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1990.

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Shadowy military group warns Sierra Leone leader
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