01/29/2007, 00.00
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Hu to begin difficult trip to Africa tomorrow

As a great friend of the continent, China for years was able to get raw materials from Africa. Now the increasing accusations of “economic colonialism” are forcing it to seek a new role. In Sudan it will try to find a solution to the genocide in the Darfur. Elsewhere it will try aide in African countries left on the sidelines by the West.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Chinese President Hu Jintao begins a 12-day tour of Africa tomorrow with stops in eight nations, including some that are critical of China. In Sudan the Chinese leader will try to find a solution for the crisis in the Darfur.

In previous trips Hu came as a friend with economic aide and trade concessions to sign economic agreements and offer loans. Now China is increasingly accused of economic colonialism, interested in raw materials and markets for its own goods.

For example, China established diplomatic relations with South Africa in 1997, a country that is now home to 400,000 Chinese. But last December local trade unions complained, and not for the first time, that Chinese textile imports are destroying the domestic industry. In fact, in the past four years, 67,000 jobs were lost in the clothing, textile and footwear sector because of cheap imports from China.

President Thabo Mbeki also pointedly warned that Africa needed to guard against allowing relations with China to develop into a "colonial relationship

In Zambia, workers at Chinese-owned copper mines have rioted over very poor working conditions, and Chinese-owned properties have been vandalised.

In Liberia China is supplying peacekeepers but is also hunting for oil.

In exchange for lucrative oil deals and exports, including armaments, Beijing for years has protected Sudan against sanctions and UN demands for intervention to stop the ongoing genocide in the Darfur in which some 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced.

Now the United Nations has asked China to use its influence with Khartoum to solve the crisis and Beijing has asked the Sudanese to cooperate with the world body to find a solution.

Shi Yinhong, an expert in international relations at Renmin University, said Mr Hu will urge Khartoum to allow UN peacekeepers into Darfur. If successful this will “help China's ties with the US, the EU and greater Africa”.

Other major powers have often bypassed Africa even though many of its nations need foreign aid to expand their economies. For this reason Mr Hu's trip includes visits to Cameroon (first stop), Namibia, Mozambique and the Seychelles. His itinerary is a "mixed bag of countries small, medium and large", seemingly designed to de-emphasise China's thirst for oil and play up its wider interests, said Sanusha Naidu, a researcher in Chinese studies at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. “I can't remember the last time [US President George W.] Bush visited.” What is more China offers African countries a “countervailing force to US hegemony”, said Francis Kornegay, an analyst at the Centre for Policy Studies in Johannesburg.

“The phenomenal growth and dynamism of this Asian giant economy inspires a double sense of respect and worry,” said Professor Touna Mama, an economic adviser to the Cameroonian prime minister.

And Africa’s “challenge is to [. . .] break away from exporting raw materials to exporting value-added products," said Tarah Shaanika, head of the Namibian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Yet Chinese support does come with conditions, including a ban on formal ties with rival Taiwan and expectations that recipients vote with China at the United Nations.

For example, this month, South Africa joined Beijing in voting against a resolution to censure Myanmar for human rights abuses, arousing criticism that its government had forgotten its own history.

Trade between China and Africa has soared fourfold this decade, to US billion in 2005. (PB)

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