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Hu clinches a deal to search for oil in Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya—Chinese President Hu Jintao clinched a deal Friday to search for oil in Kenya, wrapping up a weeklong African tour that's highlighted energy-hungry China's growing engagement in the world's poorest continent.

The deal came two days after Hu finalized a $5 billion deal that allows China's state-owned oil company, CNOOC, to drill in Nigeria, Africa's largest oil-producing nation.

Hu's Africa visit, his second in three years, comes as China continues to search the world for energy and other raw materials to feed its fast-growing economy. Increasingly, China is turning to Africa, which has some of the world's richest stores of oil, timber and valuable minerals.

Trade between Africa and China reached nearly $40 billion in 2005, according to Chinese government figures—up more than 25 percent over 2004. China also promotes African development by building roads and rehabilitating aging or damaged infrastructure—areas where the United States and other Western donors have traditionally been reluctant to invest.

On Friday, Hu said China would help Kenya's capital, Nairobi, fix its crumbling roads and unreliable streetlights. In Nigeria, Hu pledged to take over a major refinery to boost local fuel production and committed more than $1 billion to rehabilitate the railway system.

"China's African policy has achieved much," Hu said at a ceremony with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki at Kenya's State House.

In exchange, Kibaki promised to adhere to perhaps the most critical diplomatic plank in Chinese foreign policy—the "one China" principle, not recognizing the sovereignty of the island of Taiwan.

No oil has been discovered in Kenya, but by agreeing to explore in six blocks in northwest Kenya and offshore in the Indian Ocean, China signaled both its hunger for new energy sources and its willingness to invest in areas of Africa that Western interests have largely ignored.

"Not a lot of people think there's any oil to be found (in Kenya), although it's still possible China will find something," said Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, an energy analyst with the Eurasia Group consulting firm.

"In my view, the deal is more symbolic."

Analysts said the visits to Kenya and Nigeria would cement China's diplomatic ties with two African powers and signal to the rest of the world that its involvement in Africa is no fad. Many Chinese contracts in Africa span terms of 10 and 20 years. China also has established educational institutes in Nairobi and other cities aimed at promoting Chinese culture.

"They're on a tear in Africa; they feel good about it and they're not defensive about it," said J. Stephen Morrison, Africa director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Most of Africa has greeted China's rising involvement as a welcome alternative to the United States and former colonial powers in Western Europe. In recent years, many Africans have come to resent conditions often placed on Western foreign aid, including adherence to good governance and human rights practices.

Hu reaffirmed that China attaches no such strings.

"In our dealings with African countries, we follow the principle of noninterference in other countries' internal affairs," Hu said. "We stand ready to develop a new type of partnership featuring political mutual trust."

China has become a reliable diplomatic partner for African countries, even those with questionable human rights records. With its seat on the United Nations Security Council, China stalled the U.S.-led drive this week to place sanctions related to the Darfur war on four officials from Sudan, where China has major oil interests.

The sanctions eventually passed, with China abstaining from the vote.

Hu's visit follows a series of high-profile visits by Chinese diplomats to African nations and the publication of the Chinese government's first-ever African Policy Paper in January. Later this year, China will host a major summit of African leaders in Beijing.

Hu's trip, which included a stop in Morocco, came at the end of a five-nation tour that began in the United States and continued in Saudi Arabia.

On Saturday, before returning to Beijing, Hu and first lady Liu Yongqing were scheduled to visit a section of the Rift Valley north of Nairobi, hoping to drum up more Chinese tourism in Kenya.

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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