06/16/2006, 00.00
CHINA – EGYPT
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Egypt first stop in Wen Jiabao's new trip to Africa

Trip includes six other mineral-rich countries. Behind the diplomacy lies the quest for raw materials and markets for Chinese products.

Cairo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao kicks off a tour of Africa in Egypt on Saturday, celebrating Sino-African political ties in the nation where they began, before resuming the hunt for mineral wealth in six other countries.

On May 30, 1956, Egypt became the first African state to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, and both countries have since maintained warm ties.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has travelled to China six times since coming to power in 1981, and is expected in Beijing again before the end of the year.

Bilateral trade reached US$ 2.2 billion in 2005, with the balance leaning heavily in China's favour.

Egypt, which welcomed 50,000 Chinese visitors last year and whose prime source of revenue is tourism, will seek to tap into the 100 million Chinese tourists expected to flood the world annually by 2020.

Speaking of the festivities to take place at the foot of the pyramids, Egypt's assistant foreign minister for Asian affairs Ali al-Hefny said the two sides would also discuss means of establishing Egypt as a gateway for China's booming trade with the rest of the continent.

Despite Beijing's attempts to depict Wen's visit as more than an oil-hunting safari, experts insist China's main concern is to secure enough raw materials to quench the ever-growing thirst of its economy.

Wen's visit will include a stop in Angola, China's second-largest oil supplier after Saudi Arabia, and five other mineral-rich countries. The trip will not include though Sudan and Zimbabwe, which have good diplomatic and trade relations with China, but have been harshly criticised by the West for their human rights record.

"It is critical for China to guarantee a supply of oil and metals and anything it needs to feed its economy, which is highly energy intensive as growth is essentially industrial," said Nicolas Pinaud, an economist with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

"What is clear is that Egypt plays an important role on the continent and in the region and holds a strategic place in the Mediterranean area. It could aim to become a re-export hub for China's activities," he said.

China's trade with Africa increased forty-fold between 1990 and 2004 totalling US$ 39.5 billion dollars last year.

Beijing now gets 15 per cent of its oil from Angola and Sudan, absorbing 80 percent of the latter's oil exports.

China is also seeking to extend its diplomatic influence in Africa to further isolate Taiwan and gain international recognition that the island is part of its territory. (PB)

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