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China, African Nations Close Summit With Deals, Cooperation Plan


China has wrapped up a giant two-day summit involving 48 of Africa's 53 countries with nearly $2 billion in trade agreements and a two-year plan for a new strategic relationship. The summit highlighted China's drive to secure from Africa the raw materials it desperately needs to fuel its economic engine.

China's communist government intended this meeting to be large and showy, aimed at impressing on African leaders that Beijing means business. On Sunday, Beijing delivered and African nations accepted.

The official Xinhua news agency said China had signed 14 agreements worth $1.9 billion with African governments and companies in the areas of energy, infrastructure, communications, technology, and financial services.

In reading the summit's final declaration, President Hu Jintao said China and African nations have committed to a new strategic partnership founded on "political equality and mutual trust, economic cooperation that benefits all, and cultural exchanges."

Mr. Hu says the two sides hold that the world today is undergoing complex and profound changes and that the pursuit of peace, development and cooperation has, in his words, become the trend of the times.

The declaration, read jointly by Mr. Hu and the leaders of Ethiopia and Egypt, indicated this type of meeting would become a regular event. The next forum will be in 2009 in Egypt.

In the statement the leaders also urged developed countries to increase aid to Africa and honor commitments to relieving debt and opening their markets.

Deals announced Sunday are with Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Zambia, Uganda, Seychelles, Lesotho, and Cape Verde. A number of other agreements are pending.

Chinese officials say their outreach to Africa is sincere and with no political conditions attached.

It is precisely China's policy of providing aid and investment without conditions that has triggered criticism from some in the West who say Beijing is undermining efforts to promote transparency and human rights on the continent.

At a briefing after the close of the summit, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin responded to that criticism, blasting the portrayal of China as a new haven for African despots.

"This summit and relationship between China and Africa is new, simply because it is based on mutual respect, mutual accountability, respect of cultures and values, of all included in this partnership and it is also predictable partnership that one can count on the other, with no political strings serving only the interests of one of the parties," said Mesfin.

At the start of the summit Saturday, Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged to double aid to the continent by 2009 and provide a five-billion-dollar loan and credit package.

China says its trade with African nations increased tenfold between 1995 and 2005 and is expected to top $50 billion this year.

Much of the trade has been in oil. African nations, including Sudan, Angola, and Equatorial Guinea, countries with poor human rights records, account for roughly a third of China's petroleum imports.