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Chinese President Visits Gabon - 2004-02-03

Chinese President Hu Jintao has concluded a visit to the African nation of Gabon, where he defined new parameters for cooperation between China and Africa.

The Chinese leader left Gabon with new hopes for a dynamic partnership between resource-hungry China and resource-rich, but impoverished, Africa.

Gabonese media and politicians showered Mr. Hu with admiration in comments and editorials.

The main event of Mr. Hu's visit was a 20-minute speech Monday at the national assembly, which is being rebuilt with an interest-free Chinese loan.

Mr. Hu said Chinese-African relations need to be based on three principles - reinforcing cooperation in all sectors, giving aid in exchange for contracts, and defending the rights and interests of developing countries.

He also said China plans to fulfill its promise to eliminate customs duties on certain African commodities, and to provide incentives for Chinese companies working on infrastructure projects in Africa.

Earlier Monday, he signed three agreements with Gabon's long-time leader Omar Bongo. Two of the accords pledged more than seven-million dollars of Chinese aid to Gabon and an interest-free loan for building projects. The third agreement established a partnership between Gabon's energy ministry and China's state oil company Sinopec, to develop Gabon's oil drilling and refining industry.

Gabon is the third-largest producer of oil in sub-Saharan Africa, while China has become the world's second-biggest oil importer, behind just the United States.

Besides oil, China is also showing growing interest in other African exports, such as coffee, cotton, cocoa, timber, minerals, and precious metals.

During a toast at a state dinner Monday honoring President Hu, President Bongo thanked China for also investing in post-war economies in neighboring countries. These include the Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo, where Chinese companies have been helping rebuild infrastructure destroyed by civil war.

Mr. Bongo says these actions are helping establish regional stability and development.

President Bongo also said Africa needs China as an ally, because it has veto power at the U-N Security Council, and has said it will always defend the interests of developing countries.

Mr. Hu left for Algeria where he will also discuss oil contracts. Algeria is the last stop on a two-week trip, which also took him to France and Egypt.