02/01/2007, 00.00
CHINA – AFRICA

Great expectations but few illusions for Hu’s visit to Sudan

Hu, who is in Liberia today, is expected to play a positive role in ending the genocide in Darfur but he is not likely to forget China’s interests in Sudan which range from crude oil to weapons sales to the Western-boycotted government in Khartoum.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Hu arrived in Liberia today. His visit will last a few hours and tomorrow he is off to Sudan, where he is expected to play a positive role in ending the genocide in the Darfur. Whilst still signing lucrative contracts across the continent, this time Beijing is focusing less on economic issues and insisting on the importance of peace in Africa.

In Monrovia, Liberia and China are set to sign agreements opening the African country to Chinese investments.

Liberian authorities want to set up a special economic zone near the port of Buchanan to attract hundreds of foreign companies and create jobs.

China is expected to formally cancel Liberia’s US$ 15 million debt it owes. The country's overall debt is around US$ 3.5 billion.

In Cameroon (where China offered low-interest loans, debt relief and other incentives, and discussed social aid programmes for clean drinking water and cheap housing in exchange for local oil, bauxite and iron ore), Hu said that “China and Africa have never tried to impose their social and economic development models on others”.

For his part, Cameroonian President Paul Biya insisted that Chinese companies and investments are welcome.

In the case of Sudan, China has resisted sanctions to force its government to accept UN peacekeepers in its Darfur region despite the estimated 200,000 people killed and 2.5 million displaced since February 2003.

Now it is hoped that China might be able to persuade the Sudanese government to agree to an international peace-keeping force but no one is under the illusion that the Chinese will do so at the expense of their vast interests in Africa’s largest country.

Beijing buys 60 per cent of Sudan's oil output (which represents 8 per cent of its total oil imports) and is involved in major infrastructural projects such as the US$ 1.8 billion Merowe hydroelectric complex,

Sino-Sudanese cooperation grew in the 1990s when Western companies froze investments after Sudan was accused of supporting terrorism and tolerating slavery.

China has always promoted the notion of non interference in the internal affairs of other nations something that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir happily noted in a press conference on November 28, 2006.

His government is accused of supporting Arab militias engaged in military operations against the civilian population in the Darfur region and using its air force to bomb their villages.

Chinese oil companies like China National Petroleum Corp have allowed Sudan to increase its oil output. China National's 41 per cent-owned Petrodar opened a 1,400- kilometre

(870-mile) pipeline last April to carry 200,000 barrels of crude a day from oil fields in the Melut Basin to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.

According to some experts, China is Sudan’s second largest arms supplier after Russia. But Beijing is also heavily involved in selling weapons to other countries.

Although it has about a thousand peace-keepers involved in UN operations around the world, it has, to date, sent more than 1,600 military delegations to more than 90 countries, of which 18 are in Africa, favouring bilateral, over multilateral, military diplomacy. Furthermore, it maintains legations in 146 countries and military-diplomatic stations in 103.

China already contributes more than 450 soldiers to the 10,000 UN peacekeepers monitoring a January 2005 peace agreement that ended a 21-year civil war between the Islamic government and the mainly Christian and animist southern Sudan.

It has also sent technicians and experts to help in the ‘reconstruction’ of the country. (PB)

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