China's Xi signs multi-million-dollar deals in Congo

BRAZZAVILLE (AFP) - China's new President Xi Jinping on Friday signed deals worth several million dollars with his Congolese counterpart in sectors as varied as banking and infrastructure, on the final leg of his three-nation Africa tour.

His visit to Tanzania, South Africa and now the Republic of the Congo underscores Beijing's growing presence in the resource-rich continent.

Mr Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan were greeted by President Denis Sassou Nguesso on their arrival in the capital Brazzaville on Friday, as well as several thousand Congolese wearing T-shirts emblazoned with images of the two leaders, dancing under a blazing sun.

Mr Xi said that he hoped to "deepen mutual understanding and friendship (with the Republic of the Congo) and lift bilateral ties to a new and higher level", China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The two leaders signed 11 deals worth several million dollars after Mr Xi arrived for his two-day visit, the first by a Chinese president to the impoverished country of four million with significant oil resources.

The accords cover projects in a number of areas including communications, infrastructure and banking, according to an official document seen by AFP.

They build on two further accords worth several billion dollars already underway, one of which will finance the building of more than 500km of highway between Brazzaville and the economic capital on the Atlantic Coast, Pointe-Noire.

As the two nations prepare to celebrate 50 years of bilateral ties, President Sassou Nguesso praised China, which he said respected and helped Africa, according to Xinhua. He also rejected claims of neo-colonialism sometimes levelled at the world's second-biggest economy.

China is already Congo's largest trading partner, with bilateral trade ballooning to five billion dollars in 2012 from US$290 million (S$360 million) in 2002, according to Xinhua.

Later Friday, in an address to Congo's parliament, Mr Xi said that both nations shared a desire to develop.

"We have the historic mission of achieving national development and the happiness of our people," the Chinese leader said.

"In the future, the development of China will represent an unprecedented opportunity for Africa, just as Africa's development will be for my country."

Unity was the only way forward, the Chinese leader said.

"Division would only lead to chaos, and chaos would only plunge Africa into backwardness," Mr Xi was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

Mr Xi's African tour, part of his first presidential trip that began in Russia, has also taken him to Tanzania and South Africa.

China's business boom has seen financial and trade ties rocket in recent years as it sources many of its raw materials from Africa.

But ahead of Mr Xi's visit to Congo, many expressed doubt that he will bring job opportunities with him, as Chinese companies that set up shop in Africa often bring their workers with them.

"It's like we don't have able hands in Congo," a teacher at a training college told AFP. "If you import labour when there are no able people or specialists, that's OK. But they even bring their own chauffeurs. There's no transfer of abilities."

Xinhua said however that more than 85 per cent of the staff of some 2,000 Chinese companies operating in 50 African countries are Africans.

In South Africa, Mr Xi attended the summit of the BRICS group of emerging economic powers - Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa - at which they agreed to launch a new development bank while failing to set up an infrastructure fund.

South African President Jacob Zuma, after meeting Mr Xi on Tuesday, hailed China's economic success as an inspiration for Africa's biggest economy, but urged more equitable trade ties.

Earlier in Tanzania, Mr Xi called Africa a "continent of hope and promise" and urged the rest of the world to "respect (its) dignity and independence".

Bilateral trade reached some US$200 billion last year, Mr Xi said in Tanzania, adding that China would "intensify not weaken" its relationship and noting a commitment to provide a US$20 billion credit-line to African nations over the next two years.

On Saturday, Mr Xi, who was named China's new president on March 14 after taking the reins of the Communist Party last November, will inaugurate a hospital and a library before heading home to Beijing.

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