The Analyst (Monrovia)

1 February 2007

Liberia: World's Most Popular President Comes to Monrovia

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"This tour will be another major diplomatic move by China towards African nations following the Beijing Summit held last November," Foreign Affairs spokesman Liu Jianchao told a regular press conference prior to Hu's visit.

The trip will address key themes such as boosting business ties and giving aid through debt relief and poverty alleviation, Liu said.

Observers say after benefiting from China's debt relief in millions of dollars last year in addition to other bilateral and technical assistance covering the renovation of major state institutions in Liberia, the repair of numerous roads across the country, and the giving of agriculture assistance, it is not clear whether the Asian nation will make further relief commitment to Liberia.

They though believe the visit will be of little substance to the average Liberian if consideration for Liberia's reconstruction agenda is not highlighted and discussed.

"Certainly, Africa serves as a good back-up for China's dwindling oil reserves, but it means more than just an oil and gas field," an energy expert with Shanghai Institute for International Studies told Interfax.

"Africa's rich energy resources have raised its importance in world affairs, and China also needs its support as it further extends its influence overseas," the expert said.

Trade between China and Africa reached $55.5 billion last year, up 40 percent from the previous year, while accumulated direct Chinese investment in the continent reached $6.6 billion, according to a report by the official Xinhua news agency.

During his trip ending February 10, President Hu is expected to meet leaders of all the nations, exchange views with them on bilateral relationships and the issues of common concern, said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao.

"This tour will be another major diplomatic move by China towards the African nations since the Beijing Summit last November," Liu added. He said Hu's visit was aimed at deepening traditional friendships and realizing the agreements reached during the Beijing Summit.

Previous visits to Africa by Hu and other Chinese officials have yielded debt cancellations, pledges to build hospitals and stadiums, and business deals over supplies of oil and raw materials to fuel China's fast-growing economy.

For Liberia, it will mean expansion in technical cooperation between the two countries in the areas of health, education, culture, and agriculture, insiders said.

At a special China-Africa summit in Beijing in November, Hu offered $5 billion in loans and credit to Africa and pledged to double aid, keen to demonstrate that China's ties with Africa went beyond thirst for its reserves of oil and raw materials.

Trade between China and Africa jumped 40 percent to $55.5 billion in 2006, with the balance of trade $2.1 billion in Africa's favor, according to Chinese Trade Ministry data published by the Chinese news agency Xinhua this week.

Some Western leaders and analysts criticize China for offering trade, aid and investment with no strings attached, saying it undermines efforts by some Western donors to promote democracy and human rights through conditional aid.

But many African leaders have only responded with a retort, "Let them do more than China if they care."

Meanwhile an Executive Mansion press release issued late yesterday said President Hu will be met on arrival at the RIA by Pres. Johnson-Sirleaf at the head of a high-power Liberian government delegation.

"President Hu Jintao and entourage will proceed with host President Sirleaf to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where the two leaders are expected to hold talks on Liberia-China relations," the release said.

It said while at the Foreign Ministry, the key of the City of Monrovia will be presented to President Hu by Monrovia City Mayor Ophelia Hoff-Saytumah.

During the visit, the two leaders are expected to sign a number of agreements for the implementation of memoranda of understanding reached in the areas of economic, trade, cultural, education, public health development, and close international cooperation.

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