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China Promises Belarus $1 Billion In Loans

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (left) and Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka met for talks in Minsk on March 24.

MINSK (Reuters) -- China is ready to lend Belarus $1 billion on favorable terms, the man widely seen as China's next leader has told Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The Chinese visit to Minsk and the loan vow mark fresh signs of growing Chinese interest in the former Soviet Union -- and not only in energy-rich Central Asia, where it is vying with Russia and the West for access to resources.

"China has taken a decision to grant Belarus favorable credits of $1 billion, which will be used for projects the nations have agreed upon," Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping said at a meeting with Lukashenka.

Xi, seen as the frontrunner to succeed President Hu Jintao in 2013, gave no more details.

Lukashenka has offered Chinese companies wider access to the $50 billion economy of Belarus, which exports potash to China. He also offered fervent support for China's position on Taiwan.

China has a record of investing in developing nations without the political conditions often demanded by Western countries, for example concerning human rights or democracy.

In power since 1994, Lukashenka's intolerance of dissent has resulted in sanctions and criticism from the West, but he has taken some steps lately aimed at improving relations with the United States and the European Union.

Lukashenka has been courting nations worldwide, from Venezuela to China, as he seeks to decrease dependence on Russia for energy and trade.