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Chinese President Hu Jintao Visits Liberia to Strengthen Ties


Chinese President Hu Jintao has made a brief stop in Liberia as part of an eight-country diplomatic tour of Africa. Some Liberians say they are excited to reap the benefits of increased relations with China. Others say they are wary of how it could affect relationships with Western nations. Kari Barber reports from our West Africa bureau in Dakar.

Chinese and Liberian flags lined the streets of Monrovia, as some people held signs in support of Mr. Hu's visit.

The one-day stop was an opportunity for Mr. Hu to hold talks with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's government, and to visit a new joint Chinese-Liberian malaria center funded by China.

The program manager of the National Malaria Program in Liberia, Tolbert Nyenswah, says he is eager to work with Chinese researchers.

"The coming of the Chinese president to Liberia to open a center for malaria research, prevention and curing is an added boost to our own efforts of preventing and controlling the disease in Liberia," he said.

But not all Liberians are happy about the government's dealings with China.

Business owner Clitus Tito says he is concerned how China's interest in Liberia could affect the country's long-standing relationship with the United States.

"We are calling on this government to be very careful about how she goes about her own foreign policy because the two powers are wanting something, and then if they go what becomes of Liberia's interest will continue to be languishing here," he said.

During the Cold War, Liberia received hundreds of million of dollars in U.S. assistance while it was under a military dictatorship.

Critics have warned that China's hands-off economic policies could propagate bad governments in Africa.

Alex Vines of the British-based Royal Institute of International Affairs says Liberia has some economic opportunities to entice China's interest, such as the newly re-opened logging industry and access to ports. But, he says, this trip is about consolidating China's diplomatic influence on the continent.

"This is about promoting the Chinese image that China, after the very frenetic activity of 2006, continues to be interested. It is also about China making a statement in Liberia that it is supportive of the post-conflict government and it also rewards countries who shift allegiances from Taiwan to China," he said.

The next stop on the Chinese president's agenda is Sudan. International pressure has been strong for China to use its influence to seek resolution in the Darfur conflict.

China is a major buyer of Sudanese oil, while human rights groups have accused Chinese arms manufacturers of arming both sides of the conflict. China denies this while saying they apply the principle of non-interference.

Saturday Mr. Hu is expected in Zambia where anti-Chinese sentiment has been strong and then on to Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique and the Seychelles.

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