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China Defends Africa Policy, Weapons Sales to Sudan

A Chinese Foreign Ministry official has defended Beijing's Africa policy and weapons sales to Sudan ahead of the Chinese president's eight-country visit to Africa. China has been wooing African nations with aid and business deals, but critics say in its quest for resources Beijing is ignoring human rights abuses. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

China's President Hu Jintao will head to Africa next Tuesday to push for increased trade and continue to build ties with African leaders.

This is his third trip to the continent since 2004, and is part of China's campaign to build strong trade and diplomatic ties there.

But critics worry that Beijing's purchases of African oil, minerals, and other resources mainly benefit Africa's governing elite.

Beijing argues its companies have improved the lives of Africans by building roads, bridges, schools and hospitals.

China's Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhai Jun told reporters Wednesday there were other countries in the world taking far more resources from Africa. He said if African leaders were upset about China's exploitation they would not have come to a China-Africa summit Beijing held in November.

"If it were another country would so many African leaders have come? Why did so many African leaders gather in China? If we were robbing African resources would they have come?" he asked.

Leaders from 48 African countries attended the summit. At the gathering, China pledged to double aid to Africa by 2009.

Beijing also promised $5 billion in loans and export credits and signed nearly $2 billion in trade agreements. Many African leaders have said they appreciate China's aid and business because Beijing generally does not impose the restrictions on the money that many Western nations do to prevent corruption and abuse.

But human rights organizations say Beijing ignores political persecution and human rights violations in some African nations.

For example, they say China's weapons sales to Sudan are fueling the conflict in Darfur, where rebel groups have fought against militias allegedly supported by the Sudanese government.

Zhai says the sales are legal and follow Beijing's practice of having the buyer agree not to transfer the arms to any third parties.

"With Sudan, we have cooperation in many aspects, including military cooperation. In this, we have nothing to hide," he said.

During his visit, President Hu will meet with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to discuss the Darfur situation.

The U.S. wants China to use its leverage with Sudan to ensure Khartoum fully accepts a hybrid African Union and U.N. peacekeeping force.

However, Zhai says using pressure or sanctions against Sudan will not help to resolve the conflict and would only make the situation worse.

"We think to resolve the Darfur issue we should first respect Sudan's sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said. "The relevant plan should obtain Sudan's agreement, because if the Sudanese government does not agree, the plan cannot be put into force or made reality."

Mr. Hu's visit, which ends February 10, will include stops in Cameroon, Liberia, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, and the Seychelles.