LIBREVILLE : Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in a major oil-
producing country, Gabon, the only sub-Saharan stop on a three-nation
tour of Africa partly aimed at trading economic cooperation for raw
President Omar Bongo welcomed the Chinese leader, whose plane arrived
from Egypt at Libreville airport at 3:50 pm (1450 GMT), and Hu and
his delegation were given full state honours with a 21-gun salute. Hu
and the veteran central African leader then inspected a military
guard in a marchpast, but their main business was not scheduled to
start before Monday morning, official said.
On Sunday evening, Hu will be the guest of honour at a banquet. His
visit is the first to Gabon, an equatorial former French colony which
lies on Africa's Atlantic Coast, by a Chinese president.
Hu will use his three-day visit here to unveil Beijing's new policy
towards the whole of the African continent in a speech before
parliament on Monday, Chinese diplomatic sources said before he
arrived from Egypt.
In Monday's keynote speech, Hu will address parliamentarians in
National Assembly buildings financed and built by China at the end of
the last century.
China's ambassador to Gabon, Fan Zhenshui, has announced that Hu's
policy speech "will be directed at all of Africa".
"We have entered a new era, the 21st century, and Chinese leaders
have changed. There will certainly be changes in the broader picture
of cooperation between China and Africa," Fan said.
Hu's formal private talks with Bongo are planned for Monday morning,
to be followed by meetings enlarged to delegations from the two
countries. Officials have given no details of the agenda for the
discussions, but oil is expected to be on it. The ambassador said Hu
had chosen to visit Gabon, which is also densely forested, because of
its considerable regional influence.
On Saturday, the French company Total Gabon and China's Unipec, a
subsidiary of China Petroleum and Chemical Corp. (Sinopec), signed a
contract under which Gabonese crude will be sold to China for the
"It's a significant annual contract," said the director general of
Total Gabon, Jacques Marraud des Grottes, who declined to give
figures. The deal guarantees the annual supply of crude oil by Total
Gabon to China. "Sinopec is the biggest Chinese refiner, with a
capacity of 2.4 million barrels per day. It represents more than half
of the Chinese market in terms of distribution," said Marraud des
In the wake of the deal between Unipec and Total Gabon, Gabon's
Energy Minister Richard Onouviet will be signing a further
exploration and production accord directly with the Gabonese state
during Hu's visit, the minister said.
Oil represents more than half of Gabon's state revenues. Production
of crude reached a peak of 18.5 million tonnes in 1997 before falling
to around 11.5 million tonnes in 2002.
Fan said the main thrust of Chinese policy and cooperation with
Africa remained "the promotion of economic development in African
Gabon and China have had diplomatic ties since 1974. Chinese
cooperation with the African nation already includes two timber
processing companies, an industrial fisheries firm and a Sino-
Gabonese hospital. China's trade with Gabon was worth 300 million
dollars (242 million euros) in 2003, a three-fold increase on a
decade earlier, according to China's economic and commercial advisor
to Gabon, Zhou Zhaoming.
In all Chinese trade with Africa is worth more than 10 billion
dollars (8.1 billion euros), he added. The vast Asian country direly
needs raw materials for its industry, which the continent is well
placed to trade for manufactured goods.