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China’s Xi vows to ‘intensify’ ties with Africa

China’s new President Xi Jinping hailed Monday the strength of ties with African nations, in a keynote speech on his first trip as head of state to the continent.

Hailing resource-rich Africa as a “continent of hope and promise”, Xi addressed leaders in Tanzania’s economic capital as “my dear friends” and spoke of Beijing’s “sincere friendship” with Africa.

“Africa belongs to the African people,” Xi said, speaking in a new conference hall built by China.

“In developing relations with Africa, all countries should respect Africa’s dignity and independence.”

Trade between China and Africa reached some $200 billion last year, he said, adding that China would “intensify not weaken” its relationship and noting a committment to provide a $20 billion credit-line to African nations over the next two years.

“Whenever I come to Africa two things always strike me the most, one is the continuous progress… I am deeply impressed at the new developments,” Xi said, on his sixth visit to the continent.

“The other is your overwhelming warmth, the sincere friendship of the African people towards the Chinese people is as warm and unforgettable as the sunshine in Africa.”

Xi and his Tanzanian counterpart Jakaya Kikwete signed 16 trade, cultural and development accords after his arrival in Tanzania on Sunday, including improvements to hospitals and ports, and the building of a Chinese cultural centre.

China is the second-largest foreign investor in Tanzania, with stakes in agriculture, coal, iron ore and infrastructure.

“We have no doubt that the people of China will continue to work with the people of Africa,” Kikwete said, dismissing those who still feared Beijing’s role “despite the end of the Cold War.”

“So far, China has been a dependable supporter and an ally of African countries and other Third World countries…in their appeal for a just and equitable world economic order,” Kikwete added.

Tanzania, where Xi arrived from after a visit to Moscow, was the first stop of a three-nation Africa tour that underscores Beijing’s growing presence on the continent.

China’s first contacts with Africa came with the sea voyages of Zheng He, a Chinese Muslim admiral who led expeditions to the east African coast in the 1400s, but little followed for centuries.

Xi, on his first foreign trip since being anointed president 11 days ago, later left Tanzania for South Africa, where he first visits Pretoria, before heading to Durban to join an emerging economies summit.

He wraps up the African tour with a visit to Congo-Brazzaville.

China, which has risen to become the world’s second-largest economy, sources many of its raw materials from Africa. A new Chinese diaspora has seen huge numbers of traders and small business operators establish themselves across the continent, which has higher growth rates than Europe or the United States.

Chinese imports from Africa soared 20-fold in a decade to reach $113 billion last year, according to Chinese government statistics, and China became the continent’s largest trading partner in 2009.

But China’s presence in Africa has also been accompanied by periodic tensions, and Xi sought to smooth over those who criticise Beijing’s role on the continent, noting that there “is no ‘one size fits all’ development model” in the world.

“We each view the other’s development as our own opportunity, and we each seek to promote the other’s development and prosperity,” Xi added.

“China insists on equality among all countries irrespective of their size, strength and wealth. China upholds justice, and opposes the practice of the big bullying the small, the strong lording over the weak, and rich oppressing the poor.”

In South Africa, where two-way trade totalled $59.9 billion last year — nearly one-third of total China-Africa trade — Xi will hold talks with President Jacob Zuma and join the leaders of Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa at the BRICS summit of emerging economies.