The Chinese government is promising to spend more than $280 million to extend the port at Nouakchott by more than 900 meters. The deep-water "Port of Friendship," can already handle 500,000 tons of cargo a year.
Mauritanian Minister of Economic Affairs Sidi Ould Tah said the deal marks a new stage in economic ties between Nouakchott and Beijing and signals what he calls a "leap forward" in Mauritania's relations with development partners.
Many of those partners scaled back assistance following last August's coup by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. The United States stopped $15 million in military cooperation, more than four million dollars in peacekeeping training, and three-million dollars in development assistance. Washington has also suspended a multi-million-dollar program through the Millennium Challenge Corporation and has imposed travel restrictions on coup leaders.
The European Union is threatening to withhold $230 million in development funding. The African Union has suspended Mauritania.
AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping said African leaders are working with the European Union, the United States, the Arab League, and the Islamic Conference to sanction Mauritania's military rulers.
"The sanctions have been envisaged to tell them that if you do not comply you will face sanctions, including going to the U.N. Security Council for that," he said.
China has not suspended assistance to Mauritania. Signing the port expansion project Sunday, the Chinese ambassador to Mauritania Zhang Shun said the two countries have "exemplary relations" that will be furthered by the new development project.
China is boosting its development assistance to Africa at a time when it is looking for new sources of oil, including Mauritania. The state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation began drilling in Mauritania in 2006 after paying more than eight-million dollars for 65 percent of an onshore oil and gas block.
Mauritania now produces about 75,000 barrels of oil a day with proven crude reservers of one-billion barrels.
Chinese contractors have nearly $700 million worth of projects in Mauritania including water supplies, telecommunications, agriculture, and construction.