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China seeks broader Africa role

By Shirong Chen
BBC News

Chinese President Hu Jintao (file photo)
Mr Hu will witness the signing of trade and energy co-operation deals

The Chinese President Hu Jintao is visiting Mali and three other African countries on his fourth visit to the African continent.

Chinese officials have stressed that Mali, Senegal, Tanzania and Mauritius are not resource rich.

Chinese officials are trying to change the perception that China is only interested in Africa because of its abundant natural resources.

Mr Hu has just been in Saudi Arabia where oil topped the agenda.

China is getting oil from Angola and Sudan, and minerals from Zambia, Congo and many others.

But China is also heavily involved in infrastructure projects in Africa, some with aid from the Chinese government.

In Mali, for example, the Chinese paid for the presidential palace and are building a hospital and a bridge in the capital, Bamako.

Trade matters

The Chinese leadership hopes to improve its image abroad as a responsible country, especially as Africa is suffering from a decline in aid and investment due to the global economic slowdown.

To be sure, trade is an important part of the relationship.

China is Africa's third largest trading partner.

Bilateral trade reached $106bn (74bn) in 2008, a jump of 45% from the previous year.

However, as the economic crisis deepens, China's imports from Africa dropped 30% in January compared with last December.

Responsible role

So the Chinese president is set to use his fourth African trip to announce more measures to bolster confidence in the region.

Wen Jiabao has already pledged that China will not cut aid to Africa or backtrack its promise to waive debts owned by more than 30 poor African countries.

Beijing used to help many African countries to win independence from their colonial masters.

Now it hopes to capitalise on the friendship and expand its influence as an emerging power.

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