Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo is playing host to President Jiang Zemin of the Peoples Republic of China. Mr. Zemin is on a three-day official visit to Nigeria on a trip that is expected to further relations between the two countries.

Relations between the two have been cordial since they were established 31 years ago. Friendship has continued to blossom since President Obasanjo took office as Nigeria's democratically elected leader in 1999.

Nigerian officials say they will be seeking to improve trade relations ? despite the handicap posed by distance. They say the two countries represent an untapped but potentially lucrative market of one-and-a-half billion people ? and over one billion dollars in trade annually. Chinese officials say this figure could increase in the coming years with Nigeria?s interest in Chinese heavy machinery and China?s desire for agricultural raw materials from Nigeria.

One issue likely to feature in talks between the two heads of state is the contract to revive Nigeria?s rail system. The 520 million dollar contract was awarded to a Chinese firm in the mid-nineties, but the job remains unfinished amid mutual recrimination. Analysts say if the sore point is resolved, the two will have laid a solid foundation for lasting friendship.