Chinese president's shopping excursion arrives in Namibia


By Celean Jacobson
Associated Press
Monday, February 5, 2007;_ylt=AoHVk6...

WINDHOEK, Namibia -- Chinese President Hu Jintao announced new development aid for Namibia on Monday, promising an interest-free loan and money for schools in the sparsely populated, mineral-rich desert country.

Hu, on an eight-nation tour of Africa, offered a package of measures as he paid tribute to the "brotherly friendship" shown by a "young country full of vitality and talent."

The Namibia-China Mineral Resources Investment and Development Corp. took out a full-page advertisement in the local newspaper welcoming Hu to the country, where many hope to benefit from an influx of Chinese investment and tourists. But the mood of celebration was not universal.

Hu's 24-hour stopover comes amid growing criticism over rising Chinese domination in Africa, its interest-free loans, and its support of regimes with poor human rights records, such as Sudan and Zimbabwe.

"Workers bitterly complain about slave-like and exploitative labor practices, while Namibian consumers have expressed deep concern about the import and dumping of cheap and unreliable Chinese products in the country," Namibia's National Society for Human Rights said in a statement.

Namibia, which has a population of 2 million people, is rich in diamonds and minerals such as uranium, zinc, and cobalt. It has a long-standing friendship with China since the Asian country backed its struggle for independence from South Africa, which it achieved in March 1990.

Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, who took office in March 2005, has actively promoted cooperation with China. Trade between the two nations in the first 11 months of 2006 amounted to $240 million, an increase of 103 percent from the previous year.

On Tuesday, Hu heads for South Africa, Beijing's biggest trade partner on the continent. President Thabo Mbeki warned last year that Africa needed to guard against allowing ties with China to develop into a "colonial relationship."

South African trade unions have complained that Chinese textile imports are devastating the country's industry, forcing the two governments to sign a memorandum of understanding last year aimed at restricting imports.

Hu, who will hold talks with Mbeki on Tuesday, is expected to sign a number of agreements, ranging from the export of South African fruit to China to the energy and mining sectors.

China is involved in a number of operations mining platinum, nickel, and chrome ore in South Africa, the continent's economic powerhouse and a major gold producing country.

Hu's tour is expected to counter some of the criticism by boosting already growing trade ties and ensuring that aid pledges made by China last year, such as reducing debt and cutting import tariffs, are carried out.

Hu arrived from Zambia, where he inaugurated an economic cooperation zone designed to draw $800 million in mining investment and create 60,000 jobs in the Copperbelt province.

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