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China: African Countries Sign Deals With Beijing

Chinese President Hu Jintao (file photo) (CTK) Delegates from nearly 50 African nations have ended a summit in Beijing aimed at cementing ties between the underdeveloped continent and China. During the meetings today, Africa and China signed 16 agreements worth a total of $1.9 billion, while Beijing pledged to double aid to Africa by 2009.

PRAGUE, November 5, 2006 -- China's official Xinhua news agency says the deals agreed on today involved 11 African countries and covered areas such as infrastructure, telecommunications and technological equipment, mineral resource development, and insurance.

No further details were available.

The agreements came one day after Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged to offer $5 billion in additional loans and credits to African nations by 2009.

Hu also pledged to double aid to the continent in an effort to forge a new strategic partnership and strengthen cooperation in more areas.

"[China will] expand its aid to Africa. We will double our 2006 assistance to Africa by 2009."

Hu added that his country would also forgive all interest-free loans that matured at the end of 2005 owed by the most heavily indebted and underdeveloped African nations.

China, the world's fourth-largest economy and second-largest energy user, is keen to secure oil, gas, and mineral resources from Africa to fuel its rocketing economy.

Africa now supplies one-third of China's crude oil imports.

And Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on November 4 called for China's trade with Africa to double to $100 billion by 2010.

Some African visitors to the summit, such as Cacilia Lubumbashi Mulemga from Zambia, were positive about the economic potential of cooperation with the Asian superpower.

"China has an opportunity to invest in Africa," she said. "You know, Africa right now is still developing, and if it has to develop there is a need for Africa to actually forge such partnerships, for instance the partnership that is currently going on with China."

But according to Muwana Wamunyima, also from Zambia, trade imbalance is still a worry as cheap Chinese products threaten to edge out locally-made products.

"Until they bridge that to see how best African products can enter into China [it is a problem] because at the moment you find there are so many products entering Africa, but Africa has not responded in the same manner," he said. "So if they can find a way for harmonizing this problem, then I think that will be good because it will be a win-win situation."

Critics say China's policy of noninterference in domestic affairs mean its engagement with Africa is bolstering corrupt governments.

But Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, in a speech following Hu's announcement, said China is just what Africa needs.

"The peaceful development of China, the extraordinary success of China in economic development and other fields have also created fundamentally changed circumstances," he said. "China has now more means at its disposal to assist Africa overcome its current economic challenges and is already having a marked impact on Africa's economic future."

The summit is also being seen as an opportunity for Beijing to prove its credentials at hosting a major event ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games.

The city has rolled out the red carpet for some 1,700 delegates and hundreds of journalists at the summit. It has also introduced strict traffic measures and heightened security.