- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 3, 2007

LUSAKA, Zambia — Chinese President Hu Jintao yesterday brought his eight-nation African tour to Zambia, a copper-rich country where China’s growing clout has prompted charges of exploitation and has emerged as a volatile political issue.

Huge photos of Mr. Hu and Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa greeted motorists on Lusaka’s main roads in preparation for the tightly orchestrated three-day visit, which followed stops earlier this week in Cameroon, Liberia and Sudan.

“I am sure that this visit will serve to take Zambian-Chinese relations to a higher level,” Mr. Hu said.

He has used the tour to cement China’s increasing economic and political ties and its fast-growing role as a foreign donor throughout the continent.

The Chinese leader was expected to attend a state banquet and meet with Mr. Mwanawasa, who has cultivated close ties with China. The country is a major foreign aid donor to Mr. Mwanawasa’s government, with investments in Zambia topping $500 million, according to China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua.

China also has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Zambia’s copper sector, which accounts for 60 percent of the impoverished nation’s exports.

Mr. Hu’s visit to Lusaka is expected to focus on new Chinese aid for Zambia and the inauguration today of an 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 decided against visiting the province, where 51 Zambian workers died in a 2005 explosion at a Chinese-run mine. Accidents and concerns over poor working conditions at Chinese-run copper mines — plus resentment over an influx of Chinese traders into the local apparel industry — fueled a political backlash in Zambia’s presidential elections last September over the Chinese presence.

Opposition challenger Michael Sata won support in urban areas after criticizing what he called “exploiter” Chinese investors.

“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 Mr. Sata’s party to public events during Mr. Hu’s visit, according to the state-owned Daily Mail newspaper.

Mr. Hu’s visit was preceded by a raft of new Chinese commitments, including the release of more than $6 million for the construction of a new soccer stadium in the mining town of Ndola and a $39 million grant for road building.

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