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Chinese foreign minister in Africa bolster energy interests


Jan 11, 2006 (DAKAR) — China’s foreign minister flew to Africa on Wednesday, kicking off a weeklong tour aimed at bolstering China’s growing energy interests on the oil-rich continent, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.

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Li Zhaoxing

Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing left Beijing on Wednesday for Cape Verde, an island nation perched off the western coast of Africa. Li travels next to Senegal, Mali, Liberia and two of Africa’s leading oil producers, Nigeria and Libya, where he wraps up the trip Jan. 19, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan told reporters Tuesday in Beijing.

China’s rapidly growing hunger for resources has focused its attention on the African continent, rich in minerals and oil but deeply impoverished and keen to court the possibility of expanded Chinese aid.

China has lavished attention on Africa for decades, making it the first overseas stop on the foreign minister’s calendar every year. As China’s involvement in Africa has grown, so have opportunities for political and economic friction with the West. Sudan, for example, is the subject of sanctions by some Western countries because of its human rights record. But China, which gets oil from Sudan, has blocked attempts at the U.N. to censure Sudan.

Last week, the Chinese state-controlled oil company CNOOC Ltd. said it was paying US$2.3 billion (A1.9 billion) for a 45 percent stake in a Nigerian oil field _ its first major investment since a failed August bid to take over Los Angeles-based Unocal Corp.

CNOOC withdrew the bid after U.S. politicians, leery of China’s growing influence, put up fierce opposition. Nigeria is the fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports.

Li’s Africa tour also appears aimed at bolstering China’s diplomatic dominance over Taiwan.

Beijing has aggressively pursued Taiwan’s allies with generous offers of aid over the years and in October, resumed diplomatic ties with Senegal for the first time since 1996. Taiwan responded by severing diplomatic ties with Senegal and halting projects here.

Taiwan has only a couple dozen diplomatic allies, mostly small and poor countries in Africa and Central America. Although democratic Taiwan is self-governing, communist Beijing insists the island that broke away amid civil war in 1949 still is part of China.

In Liberia, Li will attend the inauguration Monday of Africa’s first democratically elected female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who won elections late last year that many hope will end years of fighting in the war-battered country.

Kong said China would sign agreements with Nigeria on economic and technical cooperation during the visit, but he gave no details. Chinese officials said last week specifics of the deals were still being worked out.

The Nigeria oil deal adds to a multibillion-dollar string of foreign acquisitions by Chinese oil companies, which are aggressively pursuing energy supplies to fuel the country’s booming economy.

China imports more than 40 percent of its estimated daily consumption of 6 million barrels of oil _ a proportion expected to grow amid surging economic growth.

China first became a net oil importer in the 1990s after meeting its own needs for decades. It is now among the world’s top foreign oil consumers.


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