China's president wraps up first foreign trip in Congo

BRAZZAVILLE (AFP) - China's new President Xi Jinping on Saturday wraps up his first foreign trip which has seen him sign energy deals with Russia and scores of accords with resource-rich Africa.

Mr Xi ends his tour with the first-ever visit by a Chinese president to Congo, a small and impoverished country in central Africa, which has significant oil resources and other untapped mineral wealth.

On his second and last day in Brazzaville, he will meet members of the Chinese community and attend the inauguration of a Chinese-built hospital and the capital's largest university library.

Mr Xi, who is travelling with his wife Peng Liyuan - another first for a Chinese leader - on Friday inked 11 communications, banking and infrastructure deals worth millions of dollars in the Congo.

He 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.

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

These agreements add to dozens of energy deals signed between Russia and China, the world's biggest energy consumer, at the start of the trip.

Seeking to shore up ties with Africa where trade soared to US$200 billion (S$248 billion) last year, Mr Xi visited Tanzania, South Africa and now Congo, praising the "continous progress" on the continent.

In Tanzania, where he signed 16 trade, cultural and development accords, he hailed Africa as a "continent of hope and promise" and urged countries to respect its "dignity and independence".

He said China would "intensify not weaken" its relationship and noted commitment to provide a US$20 billion credit-line to African nations over the next two years.

Addressing leaders in Tanzania's economic capital, Mr Xi highlighted Beijing's "sincere friendship" with Africa.

China's relationship with Africa has caused many in the west to question the Asian nation's motives, accusing it of neo-colonialism and overlooking abuses as it seeks oil and other natural resources to fuel its economic drive.

On 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."

China is already Congo's largest trading partner, with bilateral trade ballooning to US$5 billion in 2012 from US$290 million in 2002, according to Xinhua.

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.

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