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« Leave me alone, IBB tells Ribadu; Tasks EFCC on corruption under the Obasanjo administration | Main | 100 die in clashes between protesters, police in Congo »

February 05, 2007

Liberians welcome Chinese leader

Story Highlights
• President Hu Jintao's nation wants resources, Liberia needs investment funds
• West wants China to tie aid to reforms, but China won't set conditions
• China offering low interest loans, debt relief to increase its influence in Africa
• Trade between China and Africa jumped 40 percent last year to $55.5 billion

POSTED: 9:07 p.m. EST, February 1, 2007

MONROVIA, Liberia (Reuters) -- Thousands of cheering Liberians lined the streets of the capital Monrovia on Thursday to greet Chinese President Hu Jintao, hoping for desperately needed investment for their war-scarred nation.

Arriving from Cameroon, where he signed nearly $100 million in grants and soft loans on Wednesday, Hu was greeted by large crowds waving Chinese flags, many of whom had waited several hours for his arrival.

"China has brought pride to Liberia. For the first time a world leader has come to this poor country," said Ruth Davies, a 38-year-old student. "This is a historic time for us."

China has been offering low-interest loans, debt relief and other incentives to increase its influence on the world's poorest continent in return for access to the natural resources it needs to feed its booming economy.

China only resumed diplomatic ties with Liberia -- a U.S. stronghold in Africa during the Cold War -- in 2003 after Monrovia broke off relations with Taiwan. Before its civil war, which killed more than 200,000 people, Liberia had been the world's fifth largest exporter of iron ore.

Hu was due to meet President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on Thursday. Chinese diplomats said Hu would sign seven bilateral accords with Liberia, which in addition to iron ore, has large reserves of rubber and timber.

War-scarred Monrovia gets face-lift
The pot-holed streets and bullet-marked buildings of Monrovia were given a hasty face-lift in preparation for Hu. Street corners were draped in Liberian and Chinese flags.

"The visit of the president is good for Liberia. China is a super power in its own way. If such a country's president can visit this small country, it means a lot for us," said Jimmie Smith, as he painted a stairwell at the Foreign Ministry.

Hu's eight-nation tour will also take him to Sudan, Namibia, South Africa, Seychelles, Zambia and Mozambique.

Hu's visit has been overshadowed by calls from Western governments for China to back efforts by donors to promote democracy and human rights in Africa through conditional aid, instead of its current "no strings attached" trade policy.

His visit to Sudan, where China buys crude oil and sells weapons, will be closely watched after Washington appealed directly last month for more support tackling the conflict in Darfur, which has killed more than 200,000 people in four years.

Trade between China and Africa jumped 40 percent last year to $55.5 billion, with the balance $2.1 billion in Africa's favor, according to Chinese Trade Ministry data.

But some Africans warn poor African countries may ultimately lose from expanding trade with China unless they carefully examine bilateral deals and protect their weak manufacturing sectors from cheap Chinese clothes and household goods.

The managing-director of Liberia's National Port Authority, Togba Ngangana, said Chinese investors had signed a memorandum of understanding to build a manufacturing zone outside the southern port of Buchanan which would produce 50,000 jobs.

Chinese relations were recently at the center of a political spat after majority of the members of Liberia's lower house of parliament voted to suspend the speaker after two breaches of protocol -- one of which allegedly involved contact with Taiwan.

Posted by Publisher at February 5, 2007 01:47 PM

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