"--IANS/EFE"
Beijing, May 4 - Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang will Monday begin a tour of four of the main countries of sub-Saharan Africa -- Ethiopia, Nigeria, Angola and Kenya.

Through this tour, China will seek to intensify its economic cooperation with these countries and at the same time improve its image in the continent.

This will be the first time that Li, who will be accompanied by his wife, Cheng Hong, will travel to the African continent since he assumed power in March 2013.

The trip also comes a year after Chinese President Xi Jinping travelled to South Africa, the Republic of Congo and Tanzania.

The prime minister Saturday stressed that during his trip more than 60 agreements will be signed in different fields, with special emphasis on new structures in Africa such as roads, railways and electricity or air transport facilities.

The trip to the four countries combines a bilateral agenda with important multilateral gestures, which means, for example, that in Ethiopia, the first stop of his tour May 5-6, Li will become the first Chinese head of state to visit the headquarters of the African Union - in Addis Ababa, the national capital.

Li will deliver a speech in the new convention centre of the organisation that was constructed with Chinese funding of $200 million, and will meet the current chairman of the AU, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, president of Mauritania.

In Nigeria May 6-8, in addition to meeting President Goodluck Jonathan, Li will participate in the World Economic Forum on Africa in Abuja, a conference that seeks to be an African version of Davos.

In this conference, Li will talk about the mutual benefits of African cooperation.

His next stop will be Angola where, May 8-9, he will seek to strengthen bilateral ties with the leading exporter of oil to the Asian giant.

The tour will continue from May 9-11 in Kenya, the last leg of his trip, where Li will visit the headquarters of the UN Environment Programme - and the UN Human Settlements Programme -, the only two UN agencies with headquarters in Africa.

In the Kenyan capital, the Chinese prime minister will meet the heads of those two international organisations, Achim Steiner, executive director of the UNEP, and Joan Clos, his counterpart in UN-HABITAT.

The marked multilateral agenda of the tour, and the promises of announcements of new aid programmes for the development of the continent reveal Li's main objective: to dispel fears that a growing presence of Beijing in Africa conceals a new form of colonialism.

In an interview Sunday to the African press, the Chinese leader assured that the frequent references by the international media to Chinese neo-colonialism in Africa are false accusations that do not reflect the reality of a friendly cooperation on an equal footing and with mutual benefits.

In the past, China suffered from foreign invasions and colonial regimes, and an idea that our civilisation has had for long is that one should not do to others what you don't want others to do to you, the leader said.

China has been Africa's largest trading partner in the last five years, with a turnover that reached $210,000 million last year.

More than 2,500 Chinese companies are part of projects in the continent with direct investments that at the end of 2013 stood at $25,000 million.

The growing presence of Chinese firms in infrastructure projects in Africa, ranging from reservoirs to football stadiums, has not always been welcomed by the local communities, which has resulted in some armed attacks on China's interests in countries of this region during this five-year period of intense bilateral cooperation.

Li acknowledged Sunday that the Chinese and African companies collaborating together have had growing problems that calls for suitable bilateral negotiation.

The tour to Africa, a continent of prime strategic importance for China's economy, also commemorates 50 years of the first visit by a Chinese leader to this continent, undertaken by then Chinese prime minister Zhou Enlai in 1964.

--IANS/EFE

ab/dg


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