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China's Li vows closer ties with African powerhouse Nigeria

07 May 2014, 21:30

Abuja - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang vowed on Wednesday to boost trade and investment with Nigeria, Africa's biggest economy and leading oil producer, as he met embattled President Goodluck Jonathan for talks.

Li inspected a ceremonial honour guard at the State House in the capital Abuja and received a 19-gun salute before the pair headed to the presidential villa for a closed-door meeting.

The Chinese premier is on a four-country tour of Africa, his first since taking office last year, with the world's second-biggest economy keen to boost its presence on the continent to find new markets and opportunities.

On Thursday, he was set to address the World Economic Forum on Africa in Abuja, which the government had hoped would showcase Nigeria's potential as a place to do business but has been overshadowed by security concerns.

Two car bombs that exploded in the same Abuja suburb have heightened fears about safety, while Jonathan's response to the mass kidnap by Boko Haram Islamists of more than 200 schoolgirls has been criticised as weak and ineffective.

After his meeting with Jonathan, Li said the aim of his visit was to deepen ties and cooperation with Nigeria, which has been seen as a potential economic powerhouse and destination for overseas investors.

"Nigeria is one of China's biggest trading partners in Africa. Last year, trade between our two countries reached about $13.6 billion," he said through a translator.

"We hope to see not just more trade with China but also stronger cooperation between the two countries in the development of infrastructure in Nigeria and we wish the Nigerian people even higher living standards and also greater achievement in terms of health and social progress."

Li's comments touched on a key issue that belies Nigeria's new-found status as Africa's leading economy: while it has created growing numbers of dollar millionaires and billionaires, most of its people still live in poverty.

Despite churning out some two million barrels of crude oil a day, the country struggles to produce enough electricity to keep the lights on and the country scores low on developmental indicators in areas such as health and education.

Chinese firms are already involved in road and rail projects, including a monorail scheme in the financal capital, Lagos, and Li promised more investment as well as offering more Chinese technical expertise.

"The Chinese government will honour its words," he told Jonathan.

Nigeria's foreign ministry has said that six major agreements would be signed during Li's visit, including economic and technical cooperation, aviation, banking and health projects to combat malaria.

Li noted that cooperation could also extend to "oppose and fight terrorism", with Nigeria in the grip of a raging insurgency in the north that has killed thousands.

Li flew to Nigeria from Ethiopia and is also scheduled to visit Angola and Kenya.




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