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Chinese Premier Starts Africa Tour in Egypt


Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is in Africa, as part of China's continued bid to expand ties on the African continent. Beijing has been showering attention on Africa as its economy and energy needs expand.

The Chinese premier signed a series of deals on trade, energy and communications, and marked the 50-year anniversary of Egyptian-Chinese diplomatic ties.

He told reporters in Cairo that China's foreign policy is based on mutual benefit.

"China places high value on developing economic and trading ties with Africa, and we believe, given what we have seen today, there are still vast potentials for us to tap in furthering the business ties between China and Africa," he said.

He denied that China's push into Africa threatens the strategic interests of any other countries, including the United States.

This is the second time in two months that one of China's top leaders has visited Africa.

Egyptian political analyst Abdel-Moneim Said of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies says China - the world's fastest-growing economy - is looking to expand the markets for its commercial goods. But he says the more important issue is not what China wants to sell in Africa, but what it wants to buy - oil and natural gas.

"The Chinese, as we know now, they have rising demands in energy. They cannot satisfy their needs, and their dependency is increasing," he said. "I think, they are looking on a certain level of diversification of their sources of oil, not to be only dependent on the Gulf, Iran, but also on some African producers."

Egypt is not a major exporter of oil, although it does have large natural gas deposits. But Said says the relationship between the two countries is more complex than that. Egypt was the first African state to establish diplomatic relations with China 50 years ago, and, he says, it also serves as a gateway to the rest of the continent.

The Chinese leader acknowledged that Beijing has been reaching out to Africa in recent years, expanding trade and forgiving the debt of some of the continent's poorest countries.

Human rights groups have also accused China of shoring up several repressive African governments, including the ones in Angola and Zimbabwe. Some environmentalists are afraid that China's quest for African natural resources will come at the expense of environmental safeguards.

When asked whether those issues would play a role in any of China's trade deals with Africa, Premier Wen gave a lengthy answer, first listing the things he would be focusing on before restating China's policy of "non-interference."

"Our policy is consistent, that we follow the principle of mutual respect, equality, mutual benefit and non-interference in others' internal affairs in our relations with African nations," said Wen. "We believe that the peoples of different regions and countries, including those on the African continent, have the right and also the capability to properly handle their own issues."

The Chinese premier left Egypt for Ghana. He then travels to the Republic of Congo, South Africa, Angola, Uganda and Tanzania.