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China's FM in first visit to new ally Malawi

world Updated: Jan 15, 2009 17:01 IST

China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi arrived on Thursday in Malawi, in the first visit by a senior official from Beijing since the impoverished African country dropped its ties with Taiwan last year.

Yang arrived on a private jet at Chileka airport, outside the commercial capital Blantyre, with a small delegation just after 10:00 am (0800 GMT) and was welcomed by his Malawian counterpart Joyce Banda.

"The visit provides an opportunity for Malawi to review projects that we agreed, to see what progress we have made, to examine the challenges we have encountered and to map the way forward," Banda told AFP at the airport.

Malawi, which depends on mostly Western donors to bankroll most of its development programmess, last year switched its diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing.

The move angered Taiwan and led to the termination of various cooperation agreements with Malawi, an ally for 42 years.

China immediately opened a diplomatic mission in Malawi's administrative capital Lilongwe.

During his one-day visit, Yang will also hold talks with President Bingu wa Mutharika and sign bilateral agreements.

Chinese ambassador to Malawi, Lin Songtian said that his foreign minister was in Malawi to "promote mutual understanding and mutual trust."

"We have to know each other. We want to assure people that China is a partner. And he has come with a package to sign the China-Malawi technical agreement," Lin told AFP.

Mutharika, who had in the past vehemently supported Taiwan's bid for admission to the United Nations, last year paid a state visit to China.

The Malawi visit is part of Yang's African tour, also taking him to Uganda, Rwanda and South Africa.

China has built close partnerships with African nations in recent years, partly to secure resources such as oil, minerals and timber to help fuel its economic growth.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war and have since vied for international recognition as the rightful government, with Beijing regarding the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification.

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province that will eventually be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.