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China's Xi to visit Africa as U.S. frets over Beijing influence

China's Communist Party Chief Xi Jinping arrives for a plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the Peop
China's Communist Party Chief Xi Jinping arrives for a plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the Peop

BEIJING (Reuters) - Incoming Chinese president Xi Jinping's first trip as head of state will take him to Africa, the government said on Saturday, as China seeks to cement a growing trade and energy relationship that has caused alarm bells to ring in Washington.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said that Xi, scheduled to take over formally from Hu Jintao as national leader next week, would visit South Africa, Tanzania and Republic of Congo, as well as Russia, though he provided no exact dates.

"China and Africa are good brothers, good friends and good partners. The visit by China's new national chairman to Africa fully shows the importance we attach to Sino-African ties," Yang told a news conference at China's annual parliament meeting.

While in South Africa Xi will attend a summit of BRICS nations -- made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- which will be held in Durban at the end of March, he added.

China has courted Africa for decades, but its efforts have kicked into high gear in recent years as Beijing seeks to satisfy growing demand for raw materials and energy for its booming economy, now the world's second largest.

Last year Hu offered $20 billion in loans to African countries over the coming three years, part of what China says is a no-strings-attached aid policy widely appreciated in Africa.

Many Western nations though say China turns a blind eye to rights abuses and corruption in handing out aid and loans in its bid to get access to resources like oil, copper and timber.

U.S. Senator Chris Coons, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, called on Thursday for early renewal of U.S. trade benefits for Africa as part of a broader strategy to counter growing Chinese investment and influence on the continent of nearly one billion people.

Yang said such concerns were unwarranted, and that China's interest in Africa was not meant to exclude any other country and was in line with the African people's wishes.

"Now all countries are pushing forward their cooperation with Africa, and China sincerely welcomes such a development," he added.

"At the same time we hope that all parties will view China-Africa cooperation in an objective light and respect Africa's choice of its own development partners. We hope that there will be more exchanges and mutual learning and less suspicion or accusations."

(Reporting by Terril Yue Jones, writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jonathan Standing and Michael Perry)

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