FM Yang to set off on tour of Africa

08:34, February 10, 2011      

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Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi kicks off his Africa trip on Wednesday, continuing the more than two-decade-long tradition of China's top diplomat visiting the continent around the start of year.

Yang will arrive in Zimbabwe on Thursday to deepen ties between Beijing and the southern African nation that China solidly backed in its fight for independence.

The week-long tour will later take the minister to Gabon, Chad, Guinea and Togo, as well as the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

It comes one year after Yang visited Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Algeria, Morocco, the UAE and the Maldives in January 2010.

"Such regular visits to Africa show China attaches growing importance to its relationship with Africa," said Gong Shaopeng, a professor of international politics at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing.

"Each year Chinese leaders visit different countries in Africa because Beijing wants to maintain good relations with all African nations," he said.

Yang's first foreign tour of the year was to the United States in January.

But this was necessary because he had to prepare for President Hu Jintao's key US visit later that month and does not signal any change in Africa's role in Chinese diplomacy, said He Wenping, chief of African studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

In Zimbabwe, Yang is expected to meet President Robert Mugabe and senior government officials.

Yang's two-day visit is "to further consolidate bonds and friendship between our two peoples", said a statement from the Chinese embassy in Harare.

Xin Shunkang, Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe, told journalists, when announcing Yang's visit, that it was to "show our support for Zimbabwe's justified requests in the international arena and exploit and expand our mutually beneficial cooperation".

The visit comes weeks after Zimbabwean Investment Promotion Minister Tapiwa Mashakada announced plans by China Development Bank to fund investments worth $10 billion in Zimbabwe's mining, agriculture and infrastructure sectors. Faced with crippling Western sanctions, Mugabe has adopted a "Look East" policy, with the country receiving loans from a number of Asian nations.

Political commentator Christopher Mutsvangwa said that Yang's impending visit was an affirmation of strong bilateral ties.

"The political bond is now taking an economic dimension as China is looking at business opportunities in Zimbabwe," said Mutsvangwa, a former Zimbabwean ambassador to China.

And He Wenping with CASS said Sino-African relations are now developing in many more areas other than the economy.

"Since 2009, bilateral cooperation has become increasingly multilateral and has seen new elements such as the climate, technology and energy. Our ties have become more diversified," she said.

As for the significance of this year's visit, He said it is a "hinge" between the fourth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation held in 2009 in Egypt and the fifth to be held in Beijing next year.

According to the World Bank, the African economy grew 4.5 percent in 2010, while it is expected to expand 5.1 percent this year. China replaced the United States as the continent's top trading partner in 2009.

Source: China Daily
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