China's foreign minister is on his first trip overseas of the year, which which under a practice that began 20 years ago, is always to Africa. 

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi stopped off in the Maldives Tuesday, in the Indian Ocean, on his way to Africa.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu says this is the 20th year in a row the Chinese foreign minister has made Africa his first destination in the new year.

Jiang says China and Africa have a traditional friendship, and will endeavor to build mutually beneficial and equal political relations.

She also says the China-Africa strategic trust has become stronger and that pragmatic cooperation has been increasing.

China buys many natural resources from Africa, including oil from countries such as Angola, Nigeria and Sudan, and minerals from countries such as Liberia, Niger and Zambia.

In return, African markets are increasingly filled with inexpensive Chinese-made goods. China also sells weapons to African countries.

Official Chinese statistics say trade between China and Africa in 2008 reached nearly $107 billion - up more than 45 percent from a year earlier.

China says its trade with Africa went from a surplus in 2007 to a more than $5 billion deficit in 2008.

Angola and South Africa are China's two largest trading partners on the continent.

The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman says China's cooperation with Africa will only strengthen, following a meeting with African leaders in Egypt in November.

Jiang says the two sides will continue to enhance their strategic partnership for the well-being of Chinese and African people.

However, many critics of China say it often makes business deals with some of Africa's worst, most abusive governments. In addition, they say that too often Chinese investment in African mines, oil fields, farms and manufacturing industries mostly gives jobs to imported Chinese workers and does little to build local communities.

The Chinese foreign minister heads to Kenya Wednesday. His trip also includes Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Algeria, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.