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Hu wraps up Africa tour with Mauritius deals

Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged further aid to Africa, despite his country's economic downturn, as he wrapped up a four-nation visit to the continent.

world Updated: Feb 17, 2009 22:28 IST

Chinese President Hu Jintao on Tuesday pledged further aid to Africa, despite his country's economic downturn, as he wrapped up a four-nation visit to the continent.

In Mauritius, Hu signed deals worth more than $270 million (215 million euros) to fund infrastructure projects on the Indian Ocean island, home to Africa's largest Chinese diaspora.

Despite the global economic downturn, which has slowed China's growth to single digits for the first time in six years, Hu said: "China will continue to offer help to Africa within its ability."

The Chinese president, who arrived Monday after previously visiting Tanzania, Senegal and Mali, left Mauritius late Tuesday.

Hu lauded bilateral relations with Mauritius as "a model of solidarity and cooperation between China and Africa."

His African trip, which took him to the less resource-rich countries, is seen as a move to counter criticism of Beijing's exploitation of the world's poorest continent, an important source of raw material for growth leader China.

Beijing, whose economy grew by 9.0 per cent in 2008, is accused by the West of unscrupulously disregarding human rights in its drive to secure natural resources from African states, including from regimes such as Sudan which is spurned by the West.

China insists its involvement is even-handed and of mutual benefit to its African partners.

But Roukaya Kasenally, a University of Mauritius lecturer, said China's foray into Africa remained questionable.

"The arrival of China raises the ethical question on development. China is far from exemplary in terms of human rights respect," Kasenally told AFP.

"In addition, China is the principal arms supplier for countries least known for respect of human rights such as Zimbabwe."

Official Chinese figures show trade between China and Africa jumped 45 per cent in 2008, with Chinese exports to the continent up 36.3 per cent and its imports, mainly oil, soaring 54 per cent.

Hu has used the trip to warn that the global economic crisis was "deepening" and that its effects would worsen.

"The impact of the crisis on economies around the world is still deepening and its grave consequences will be felt more in the days to come," Hu said in the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam on Monday.

He also called on rich nations to assist developing economies in the crisis.

"The developed countries should assume their responsibilities and obligations, continue to deliver their aid, debt relief commitments, maintain and increase assistance to developing countries and effectively help them maintain financial stability and economic growth," he said.

In Tanzania, Hu signed cooperation agreements worth more than $20 million, covering agriculture, communications and technical cooperation.

In Senegal, he signed five trade pacts and he promised to continue offering aid to Mali, where he kicked off his tour last week.

In Mauritius, Hu earned plaudits from Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam on Tuesday for his backing of the African Union's bid for the continent to have a permanent representation in the UN Security Council.

Hu was to tour a Chinese cultural centre in the capital Port Louis before ending his visit later in the day.

The deals signed here include a $260 million (204-million-euro) loan to extend Mauritius' main airport terminal building, a 6.5 million dollar interest-free loan and $five million grant to the small island nation.

Hu and Ramgoolam also discussed plans by China to create an industrial zone outside Port Louis worth $750 million that is expected to create 34,000 jobs.

"The Mauritian government accords great importance to the ties it has with China and adheres to the One China policy," Hu said during a state banquet late Monday.

"We appreciate this position and wish to thank Mauritius for the support it has given us throughout the years on vital interests."

Ramgoolam lauded the ties between his country and China.

"Although both our countries are developing nations, President Hu and I have very fruitful discussions on our bilateral, regional and international relations," he said.

First Published: Feb 17, 2009 22:27 IST