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EU to relaunch ties with Africa amid rising Chinese influence


June 28, 2007 (BRUSSELS) — The European Union aims to set up a strategic partnership with Africa to meet the continent’s most important needs and match growing Chinese influence there, officials said Thursday.

"We are looking for new, high-level relations. We want it to be a strategic partnership," Portugal’s State Secretary for European Affairs, Manuel Lobo Antunes, told reporters.

"We want to respond to individual problems that arise in Africa," he added, as Portugal prepares to take over the EU’s rotating six-month presidency from Sunday.

Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel, speaking at a conference on "competition" between the EU and China over Africa, said Europe’s "charitable or paternalistic approach" was not working and had to come to an end.

Europe’s aim is to boost and better target development aid, and to broaden partnership with African countries on key issues ranging from energy and climate change through good governance and immigration.

It would also aim to ensure peace and combat endemic diseases on the world’s poorest continent.

The strategy will be at the centre of an EU-Africa summit which Portugal wants to hold in December but is under a cloud over the participation of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who is the subject of an EU travel ban.

Portugal was EU president for the first-ever summit of the two continents in Cairo in 2000. A second was scheduled for 2003, but postponed as several European nations refused to allow Mugabe to attend.

"I regret the fact that we have had to wait seven years to give a new push to the dialogue with Africa," said Lobo Antunes. "Others will not wait and they are ready to leap on any European apathy."

The European Union is Africa’s biggest trading partner, followed by China which has proven influentual on issues such as the Darfur conflict in Sudan — a country where China has key energy interests.

China has been extending its financial footprint in Africa, a source of many of the commodities — including oil — that it needs to power its economic expansion.

Beijing hosted a summit with African leaders in November 2006 when it pledged to double its aid to the continent and to offer five billion dollars in loans and credits by 2009.

China is also building railways and other basic infrastructure in Africa, and hopes to open up a big market for cheap products.

"China, to Africans, is not just another donor country. We think we understand their needs a lot better," Liu Guijin, Chinese envoy to Africa, said at the conference.

"Our approach is not unilateral. It’s about helping countries that need us," he said. "We are trying to adapt our policies to the needs of African countries."


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