Hu embarks on African tour

Visit aimed at sealing trade deals and increasing China's influence in the region.

    This is Hu's third visit to Africa
    in as many years [EPA]

    China started the ball rolling last year by announcing a $10 bn aid package during the China-Africa summit in Beijing in November.
    Despite growing scepticism over its role in Africa, Chinese officials have maintained that Hu's visit will improve peace and stability in the conflict-ridden African continent.
    While China's growing involvement has been largely welcomed by African governments, Chinese business practices and willingness to offer bribes have been criticised as harming local workers and undermining attempts to strengthen good governance.
    The Asian giant has also been accused of putting profits above people's lives, particularly in Sudan where it has been accused of ignoring human rights abuses to secure oil for its burgeoning economy.
    Brokering peace China, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has so far resisted attempts to force Sudan's government to accept UN peacekeepers in Darfur.
    The four-year conflict between rebels and government-backed militia has claimed more than 200,000 lives and displaced another 2.5 million in Darfur.
    Zhai Jun, China's assistant foreign minister, has said that Hu would be looking to broker peace in the war-torn region.
    "With Sudan, we have co-operation in many aspects, including military co-operation. In this, we have nothing to hide," he said before Hu's trip.
    Human Rights Watch said China should co-operate with the UN, support the imposition of sanctions and examine Sudan's human rights record if it is "to fulfil its international obligations and be seen as a responsible international power".
    "Undertaking these steps will help demonstrate that China's interest in Sudan is not merely about ensuring its access to oil supplies but also about the welfare of the Sudanese people so devastated by the ongoing conflict,'' the New York-based group said.
    Analysts predict that Hu will urge Sudan to allow UN peacekeepers into Darfur, a move that will help put China in a favourable light with the US, the European Union and African countries.
    China also faces criticism for allegedly fuelling violence in some African countries by providing military and economic support.
    Half of Sudan's daily oil production is exported to China, according to Sudanese figures, with total trade between the two topping $2.9 bn last year.
    "I don't know whether they will include energy agreements, but I can say the energy co-operation between China and Sudan is very successful … if we have any energy agreements I think it is only natural," said Zhai.
    Trade between China and Africa has soared fourfold this decade, totalling $40 bn in 2005.
    Francis Kornegay, an analyst at the Centre for Policy Studies in Johannesburg, said China offered African countries a "countervailing force to US hegemony" by offering aid with fewer strings attached.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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