Hundreds of Malian people waving flags welcomed Chinese President Hu Jintao on his arrival on Thursday in the Mali capital of Bamako on his first visit to this western African nation.
Hu was received by his Malian counterpart Amadou Toumany Toure at the airport and by big crowds lining the main streets of Bamako.
"Friendship between both people goes back a long way as Mali was among the earliest African countries to establish diplomatic relations with China," Hu said in a statement released upon arrival.
"Both countries have achieved fruitful cooperation in various fields over the past 49 years. China cherishes its ties with Mali and would like to enhance our friendship and cooperation," Hu said.
"I look forward to discussing with President Toure and other Malian leaders bilateral relations and international issues of common concern," Hu said.
During his two-day stay in Bamako, Hu will hold talks with Toure and meet with President of the Malian National Assembly Dioncounda Traore, according to diplomatic sources.
The visit is aimed at consolidating friendship, deepening cooperation, dealing with challenges and seeking common development, Hu said.
Hu will also attend the inauguration of a Chinese bridge construction aid project in Bamako and the opening ceremony of a China-aided anti-malaria center, and meet with Chinese medical workers in the country.
China and Mali have maintained frequent high-level visits in recent years.
President Toure attended the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in November 2006, and the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games in August 2008.
Cooperation between the two countries has expanded in economy, trade, culture, education, medical and health.
Trade between China and Mali hit more than 200 million U.S. dollars in 2008, according to official figures.
From 1968 to 2008, China has sent more than 670 medical workers to Mali and treated about 3 million local patients.
Mali was the second leg of President Hu's first overseas trip in 2009, which has been described as "a journey of friendship and cooperation."
Earlier, he visited Saudi Arabia. From Mali, Hu will travel to three other African countries -- Senegal, Tanzania and Mauritius.
This is Hu's second African tour since the landmark China-Africa summit in 2006 when he announced eight policy measures promoting ties with Africa, including massive tariff cuts and debt exemptions for scores of African countries, and doubling aid to Africa over a three-year period.
Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun expressed his hopes last week that Hu's visit would "promote a new type of strategic partnership between China and Africa, and the implementation of policy measures announced at the summit."
"China will fully implement the eight measures for China-Africa practical cooperation agreed at the summit despite the ongoing global financial crisis," Zhai said.
In the past two years, China has increased aid to African countries, eliminated tariff for goods from some least developed Africa nations and canceled part of the debts owed by African countries, Zhai said.
"The year 2009 is an important year for China-Africa relations to continue to move forward and will create new development opportunities for the bilateral ties. The Chinese leaders will continue to take the development of relations with Africa as a top priority of Chinese diplomacy," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said last month. Source: Xinhuahttp://paper.people.com.cn/rmrb/html/2009-02/13/content_192018.htm