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Chinese President Heads to Saudi Arabia, Africa


China says President Hu Jintao will offer more aid to Africa and discuss potential energy deals on a trip to Saudi Arabia and four African countries next week. Saudi Arabia is one of China's main sources of oil, and Beijing has been working hard to expand its presence in Africa.

President Hu's first overseas trip of 2009 will take him to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, and then to Mali, Senegal, Tanzania and Mauritius.

Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun told reporters Friday that President Hu and King Abdullah will discuss energy cooperation when they meet next week.

Zhai says if talks go smoothly between the two leaders, some agreements may be signed.

In 2008, Saudi Arabia was China's largest source for crude oil imports. Saudi Arabia exported 36 million tons of oil to China that year. The Persian Gulf region provides more than half of China's oil.

In contrast to Saudi Arabia, the four African countries on Hu's week-long trip are not rich in energy or resources.

Zhai says this is an indicator that China-Africa relations are based on more than just commodities. Mali, Senegal, Tanzania and Mauritius are all longtime allies of Beijing. Mali established relations with China when it became independent in 1960, and Tanzania and China are marking 45 years of diplomatic ties.

Trade between China and African countries reached $106 billion in 2008, a 45 percent increase from the previous year.

At a 2006 Beijing summit with African nations, leaders signed 16 agreements worth a total of $1.9 billion. Then, President Hu promised $5 billion in loans and credit. He also promised to double China's aid to Africa over a three year period.

Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai says he is confident China will meet that target by the end of this year.

President Hu's Africa trip is his second visit to the continent since the 2006 summit. Last month, two other high-level Chinese officials also went to the region. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi visited Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi and South Africa, and Commerce Minister Chen Deming visited Kenya, Zambia and Angola.

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