China says this year is a turning point in its relations with Africa, with the Chinese president heading to the continent as part of his first overseas trip in 2009.  Meanwhile, a Chinese spokeswoman welcomes the inauguration of former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai as Zimbabwe's prime minister. 

There are few concrete details about Chinese President Hu Jintao's trip to Africa.  But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu Thursday says strengthening friendly cooperation will benefit both China and Africa.

Jiang calls this year a "turning point for China and Africa," which will present, in her words, "great opportunities."  She says China hopes President Hu's visit will "promote practical cooperation in extensive areas."

Chinese President Hu Jintao is in Mali and goes to Senegal, Friday.  He also will visit Tanzania and Mauritius before returning to Beijing, next week.

The four African nations are not rich in oil or mineral resources.  Senior Chinese diplomat Zhai Jun says the visits will emphasize friendship.  Zhai also says China will offer new aid to the countries.

Meanwhile, the Chinese spokeswoman welcomed the inauguration of former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai as Zimbabwe's prime minister.       

Jiang says China hopes the relevant parties in Zimbabwe will continue to make joint efforts to form the new government to lead the Zimbabwean people out of their difficulties.

China has been one of the few international supporters of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who retains his office and has been Mr. Tsvangirai's political foe.

In response to a question about the International Criminal Court's imminent indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, China says only that it hopes the court's actions contribute to stability in Sudan.

The Chinese spokeswoman says China believes in a Sudan peace process that involves three parties - the Sudanese government, the African Union and the United Nations.

The Sudanese president is facing possible charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.  These are related to the ongoing crisis in Darfur, where fighting between government-backed militias and rebel groups have killed thousands of civilians.

Beijing also has been one of Sudan's most prominent international defenders.  China is one of Sudan's largest foreign investors and is especially active in the African nation's oil sector.