Chinese president takes his African tour to copper-rich Zambia

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By the Associated Press
via International Herald Tribune, Paris
Saturday, February 3, 2007

http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/02/03/africa/AF-GEN-Africa-China.php

LUSAKA, Zambia --Chinese President Hu Jintao on Saturday brought his eight-nation African tour to copper-rich Zambia, where the Asian giant's growing clout has prompted charges of exploitation and emerged as a volatile political issue.

Traditional dancers with drums and a full military guard of honor greeted Hu as he arrived shortly after 1 p.m. at Lusaka to a welcome from hundreds of Zambians waving Chinese flags.

A large banner at the airport hailed the Chinese president as "our all-weather friend."

"I am sure that this visit will serve to take Zambian-Chinese relations to a higher level," Hu said in a written statement.

Hu arrived in this southern African nation from Sudan, following stops in Liberia and Cameroon. He hopes to use the tour to cement China's increasing economic and political ties and its fast-growing role as a foreign donor throughout the continent.

China's involvement in Zambia dates back to the early 1970s, when the Chinese government built a railway linking central Zambia to the nearest port city of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Since the late 1990s, trade has soared.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has cultivated close ties with China, which has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Zambia's copper sector, an industry that accounts for 60 percent of the impoverished nation's exports.

Chinese investment in Zambia now totals more than US$500 million (E384 million), according to China's state-run news agency, Xinhua.

Hu's visit to Lusaka is expected to focus on new Chinese aid initiatives for Zambia and the inauguration Sunday of a new economic partnership zone in Zambia's Copperbelt province, which has become a key source of copper for China's growing economy.

But the Chinese delegation canceled plans to visit the Copperbelt province, where 51 Zambian workers died in a 2005 explosion at a Chinese-run mine, fearing possible protests.

Accidents and concerns over poor working conditions and low pay at Chinese-run copper mines -- plus resentment over an influx of Chinese traders into the local apparel industry -- fueled a political backlash over the Chinese presence in last September's presidential elections.

Opposition challenger Michael Sata won support in urban areas after lashing out at what he called "exploiter" Chinese investors and threatening to recognize Taiwan, which China regards as a rebel province. This sparked an unusually public verbal row with the Chinese ambassador to Zambia.

"They're not here to develop Zambia, they're here to develop China," said Guy Scott, a Sata ally who represents Lusaka's central district in parliament.

The government has not invited Sata's party to public events during Hu's visit due to its anti-China sentiments, according to the state-owned Daily Mail newspaper.

In his statement, Hu praised the Zambian government for being the first country to establish diplomatic relations with China 42 years ago.

"Since then our two peoples have always sympathized with, and supported, each other," he said.

"In recent years our friendly relations and cooperation have continued to grow. We have deepened cooperation in all fields and are blessed with good opportunities for the sound growth of bilateral relations."

At last year's conference between the Chinese government and African heads of state in Beijing, Zambia and China forged an agreement on a new US$200 million copper smelter, to be built by China Nonferrous Metal Mining Group.

The Beijing government has conducted road-building and water supply projects, and also sent Chinese physicians to practice in Zambia -- important projects in a country where more than 70 percent of the population lives in poverty and the health care system faces serious shortages of doctors and nurses.

Hu's visit was preceded by a raft of new Chinese commitments, including the release of more than US$6 million (E4.61 million) for the construction of a new soccer stadium in the mining town of Ndola and a US$39 million (E29.95 million) grant for road building.

While many Zambians welcome the Chinese presence, many take a more wary view.

Joan van Otterdijk, a Zambian textile and clothing shop owner in Lusaka, said cheap, low-quality Chinese-made textiles being sold by Chinese traders in Lusaka are "destroying our business."

She said China should concentrate on the mining sector "rather than putting themselves into these local businesses."

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