04/25/2006, 00.00
CHINA - MOROCCO
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China's conquest of Africa takes off in Morocco

Hu Jintao met King Mohammed VI in Morocco and is discussing trade and technological cooperation agreements. In upcoming days, he will fly to Nigeria and to Kenya, on a quest for oil and raw materials, as well as markets for Chinese overproduction.

Rabat (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China's president Hu Jintao is set to meet the premier and speakers of Morocco's two houses of parliament in the first leg of his Africa tour. After touching down in Rabat yesterday with his large delegation, Hu met King Mohammed IV, who visited Beijing in 2002, to discuss trade, cultural exchange, scientific and technological cooperation, tourism and health. New agreements in these sectors, as well as closer collaboration in international policy, are expected.

In 2005, trade between the two countries reached 1.48 billion US dollars, an increase of 28%. Morocco has no oil but it does have a strategic geographic position making it a gateway to Europe. Beijing – that so far has exported practically only textiles, tea and electro-domestic products here – wants to set up a new port and industrial hub in Tangiers by 2007 and to make the country the seat of competitive manufacturing industries and an important commercial base for neighbouring Europe.

"Because of this position China can in the near future think about using Moroccan territory as a step toward new avenues of exports to Europe and the United States," Tajeddine el-Husseini, a Moroccan international economic law professor, said.

Collaboration with local firms would also be a way of getting round limits posed by these countries on Chinese textiles. The country has a widespread textile industry, which however has suffered much from competition posed by Chinese textiles that invaded Europe and encroached on the territory of African products. Morocco has a booming tourist industry and wants to increase tourism from China.

The President – who tomorrow flies to Nigeria, the second leg of his African trip – is on the hunt for raw materials, offering in turn collaboration for development of services, infrastructure and technologies.

In the African continent, Beijing is also seeking a market for its flourishing industrial production. In 2004, China's total exports to Africa hit 13.82 billion US dollars, (+36% in a year) while imports shot up to 15.65 billion dollars (+ 81%).

Officials and representatives of the Chinese government paved the way for this visit by making trips across the continent, from Egypt to Algeria to South African to Zambia, to discuss and reach agreements.

On 20 April, the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation clinched a deal for the acquisition of a 45% stake in Nigerian oil reserves worth two billion dollars. Beijing is welcomed by many African states, because it gets on with business without posing any political conditions, while the United States and European countries at times refuse to deal with dictatorial regimes or governments that are too corrupt. For this reason, western human rights NGOs warn there is a risk that China will nullify international efforts to pressure such regimes to introduce reforms.

China's reply is that trade is separate from politics and it does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, although it used its power of veto at the United Nations to block sanctions against (oil rich) Sudan to stop massacres in Darfur. And it also sold arms to Zimbabwe.

"Africa's trade links are shifting from the global 'north' to the 'east'," said analyst, Cristopher Clapham and China's hunger for raw materials is useful to African countries who have plenty but need help to find and extract them.

"China's growing activity to import oil and other raw materials from the middle east and Africa gives one to believe that these regions will be ever more important for the great country's future development," added Zhang Xiaodong, expert from China's Social Sciences Academy.

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