The new Chinese president, Xi Jinping's first foreign trip as head of state will bring him to Tanzania as well as at least two other African countries.
In the hugely significant step, Xi is expected to jet into Tanzania, on a trip that will include other African countries of DR Congo and South Africa. While in South Africa, he will attend a summit of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations in Durban.
The leader is expected in Dar es salaam on March 24 through to 26. Reuters quoted the Chinese Foreign Minister as having told a news conference at China's annual parliament meeting that, "China and Africa are good brothers, good friends and good partners. The visit by China's new national chairman to Africa fully shows the importance we attach to Sino-African ties."
The Minister is quoted to have said that the trip would also take the Chinese President to Russia, although no exact schedule was given. Irrespective of the order in which Xi visits Africa and Russia, the fact that Africa is on that all significant trip, is confirmation of Africa's importance in the future.
Given its significance, the visit has taken the debate on Afro- Sino relations a notch higher. Some experts that Pesa Times spoke to, about the visit to Africa and to Tanzania in particular explained the trip in both political and economic terms. Dr Lenny Kasonga of University of Dar es Salaam explained the choice to visit Tanzania in terms of the historical relationship between Tanzania and China, as well as China's economic interest.
But he was also quick to caution on that the opportunity could lost on the country and continent. "I am afraid that fear of the West's reaction to any deals with China might influence decisions", he said, adding that, "a firm stand was necessary to bring about economic progress and avoid imperialistic tendencies".
Another Mzumbe Universi- ty don, Dr Prosper Ngowi, also pointed to both the political ties and economic reasons for the Chinese leader's visit to Tanzania. "Chinese companies are very involved infrastruc- ture development in the coun- try," he said. Adding that, "His- torical ties dating back to the two country's founders as well a s the country's vast natural resources are certainly part of the reasons for the visit."
Some analysts also fore- see increased security cooperation between the two countries following the visit. Debate is also raging in the so- cial pages of Tanzani- ans, with most attribut- ing the trip to the vast endowments including the recently discovered gas.
Presently, a delegation of Tanzania's ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), headed by its General Secretary, Abdulrahaman Kinana is China for a 10-day working visit, at the invitation of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Kinana's visit came at a time when the CPC's General Secretary was taking over as China's Presdent.
Kinana, who has been in China for almost a week now, is expected in Beijing from 18 March, where he will wind up his trip. Chinese Investment in Tanzania In mid-2012, China's ambassador to South Africa, Tian Xuejun, said: "China's investment in Africa of various kinds exceeds USD40 billion, among which USD14.7 billion is direct investment."
In Dar es salaam, the Tanzania-China investments centre is a daily reminder of the growing China investments in Tanzania with business in the contractors industry to many other sectors. Last year, China's Sichuan Hongda Co. Ltd. Signed a USD3 billion deal with Tanzania to mine coal and iron ore in the resourcerich east African country.
The investment involves construction of the Mchuchuma integrated coal mine, a 600-megawatt (MW) thermal power station and the Liganga iron ore mine in southern Tanzania. Dubbed the single-biggest investment deal in east Africa, Sichuan Hongda will own 80 percent of the joint venture project, with the remaining stake held by Tanzania's state-run National Development Corporation (NDC).
China has been increasing its footprint in Africa as it scrambles for oil and raw materials, bought in exchange for low-cost consumer goods. China, the world's largest consumer of iron ore, has signed a number of deals in Africa to secure supplies of the resource.
NDC said early studies indicated that the Liganga area was rich in iron, vanadium and titanium minerals. Reserves are estimated to be between 200 and 1,200 million metric tonnes, with 45 million already proven through drilling. NDC said the Chinese firm won the bid after 48 international firms expressed interest in the projects. Tanzania is also seeking a USD400 million loan from Beijing to build another coal-fired power plant in the Mbeya region.
Tanzania has strong links with China going back to the days of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and Mao Zedong, both founding fathers of their respective nations. The cooperation also involved economic ties including China's construction of the Tanzania-Zambia Railway and Urafiki industries, among others. China was also involved in the liberation efforts in Africa, whose base was in Tanzania.
The event will be closely watched for any indications of which economic reforms Li may seek to promote, as well as for declarations of action on official corruption and vows on political reform. China's leaders have come under fire in the last year after reports, suppressed within the country, that the families of top politicians including Xi have amassed huge wealth, but have not vowed to make their assets public.
Li's own brother Li Keming is deputy director of China's State Tobacco Monopoly Administration, which runs and regulates the firm that controls around 98 percent of the cigarette market in the country. China has more than 300 million smokers. Li's answers at the conference are unlikely to depart from the ruling party's consensus view that China needs economic reform to maintain growth, while avoiding political reforms which could threaten its grip on power.
Last year the then Premier Wen Jiabao warned the equivalent gathering that China could fall into deadly chaos without "urgent" political reform. Wen advocated political change during several of his annual press conferences, but such reforms stagnated during his 10 years as premier, while rapid economic growth saw China become the world's second largest economy.
A career bureaucrat who speaks fluent English, Li, 57, has a more youthful bearing than his stiff party peers, and has voiced support for the kind of economic reforms many experts say China sorely needs for continued growth. Li's real power comes from his position as number two in China's ruling Communist Party, and he needs to win the support of other top officials, including Xi, to exert political influence.