- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

CAIRO — Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao yesterday denied that his country was seeking to become a counterbalance to the United States by boosting ties with Africa as he kicked off a tour of the continent.

He said his booming economy was in need of Africa’s natural resources, but rejected accusations that Beijing was conducting a policy of economic neocolonialism at the expense of human rights considerations.

“Our efforts to develop relations with countries in Africa and Latin America … are not targeted at any third country,” Mr. Wen said at a press conference in Cairo before flying to Ghana.

“Those attempts and efforts to develop relations are not directed at entering into any alliance and will not compromise the interests of any other countries. I’m confident that the U.S. government also recognizes this,” he said.

The Chinese leader, who arrived in Egypt on Saturday, was responding to suggestions that Beijing was seeking to emancipate its foreign policy from Washington by strengthening ties with developing countries.

China has been accused of fueling conflict and shoring up regimes in Africa, including in Sudan and Zimbabwe, two countries that Mr. Wen has not included in his tour.

When asked about the importance that China intended to give the issue of human rights in its Africa policy, Mr. Wen explained the principle of noninterference.

“Our policy is consistent. We follow the principle of mutual respect, equality, mutual benefit and noninterference in other’s internal affairs,” he said.

“We believe that the peoples of different regions and countries, including those on the African continent, have the right and also the capability to properly handle their own issues,” Mr. Wen said.

He went on to defend China’s record in Africa over the past 50 years and stressed that Chinese investments are an opportunity for the continent to achieve a higher level of development.

“China places high value on developing economic and trading ties with Africa, and we also believe … there are vast potentials worth to tap in furthering the business ties between China and Africa,” Mr. Wen said.

China’s trade with Africa increased fortyfold from 1990 to 2004, with Beijing now getting 15 percent of its oil from Angola and Sudan. Total trade between the two sides neared $40 billion in 2005.

“We will continue to encourage Chinese companies to come to Africa to cooperate with their African counterparts. The purpose of such China-Africa cooperation is to help our African friends to enhance their capacity to self-development,” he said.

Mr. Wen also said that in the past 50 years, China had given $5.5 billion in assistance to Africa, sent 16,000 health workers to 43 different countries on the continent and reduced or canceled the debt of 31 nations.

Mr. Wen met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak yesterday and signed 11 trade and business cooperation deals with Egypt on Saturday after meeting Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif.

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