BEIJING, May 8 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's ongoing four-nation Africa tour, which started Sunday, is widely expected to deepen cooperation between the Asian giant and the promising continent.
The visit to Ethiopia, Nigeria, Angola and Kenya, Li's first to the "Land of Hope" since taking office last year, is believed to be able to unleash the great potential for the two sides' mutually-beneficial cooperation in various fields.
Analysts say the eight-day tour, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of China's late Premier Zhou Enlai's first visit to Africa and comes after President Xi Jinping's maiden overseas trip in March 2013, is of great significance for the traditional friendship, pragmatic cooperation, and a new type of strategic partnership between China and Africa.
China, the world's largest developing country, and Africa, a continent with the most developing countries, are natural partners in pursuing common development.
EXPOUNDING AFRICA POLICY, BOOSTING COOPERATION
Five decades ago, a Chinese government delegation led by late Premier Zhou visited 10 counties in Africa, setting a milestone for the development of relations between China and the continent.
Over the past half century, China has not only unswervingly developed a friendship of cooperation with African nations, but also continued to inject fresh contents and vitality into bilateral relations.
The establishment of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) has particularly made significant contributions to consolidating the two sides' traditional friendship, deepening their strategic mutual trust, and pushing forward pragmatic cooperation in various areas.
Africa has become increasingly important for China's foreign policy, and both sides have continuously created mutually beneficial and win-win prospects.
Huang Zequan, executive vice president of the Chinese Research Society of African Affairs, said Li's visit again shows that the new Chinese leadership attaches great importance to China-Africa ties.
"The friendly cooperation between China and Africa will continue to be accelerated and enriched with new connotations," Huang said.
On Monday, the Chinese premier visited the convention center of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa and delivered a speech there on China-Africa cooperation, in which he expounded China's Africa policy and reaffirmed Beijing's commitment to deepening China-Africa comprehensive cooperative partnership.
He called on both sides to earnestly boost collaboration in industry, finance, poverty reduction, ecological protection, people-to-people exchanges, and peace and security so as to create an upgraded version of their all-round cooperation.
In Abuja, capital of Nigeria, Li attended the 2014 World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa and delivered a speech on China-Africa common development, China's bid to promote Africa's inclusive development, and international cooperation with Africa.
"Addis Ababa is the AU's headquarters. In a sense, it is Africa's political and diplomatic capital," said Liu Guijin, a former Chinese special representative on African affairs.
Li's speech at the AU headquarters was a "centralized declaration" on China's Africa policy, Liu said, adding that Li was the first Chinese leader to attend a regional WEF summit.
"China-Africa cooperation has scored tremendous achievements, but under the new situation, it's also facing some challenges," he said. "Premier Li's Africa visit this time will strengthen China-Africa relations and help steer their development in a greener, healthier and more sustainable direction."
DEEPENING TRADE, ECONOMIC COOPERATION, IMPROVING PEOPLE'S LIVELIHOOD
During his stay in Ethiopia, Li attended the completion ceremony of a highway constructed by Chinese corporations, visited an industrial park, and held a seminar with businessmen from China and African countries.
China and Africa were expected to sign nearly 60 deals, covering cooperation in such areas as trade, health, culture, agriculture and personnel training.
"Trade and economic cooperation is playing a key supportive role in the development of China-Africa relations," said Liu Hongwu, director of the School of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University.
"The two sides' cooperation in such fields as agriculture, industry, science and technology, and new energy has increasingly become one of the most important outside forces that boost Africa's economic development," he said.
He added that the visit would deepen trade and economic cooperation between China and African nations.
Official statistics show the total volume of China-Africa trade hit an all-time high last year, reaching 210.2 billion U.S. dollars, up 5.9 percent year-on-year.
China has been Africa's largest trade partner for five consecutive years and a major source of new investment, while Africa has been China's important import market and second largest market of overseas contract projects.
According to the Chinese Commerce Ministry, Chinese direct investment in Africa amounted to 25 billion dollars by the end of 2013, with more than 2,500 Chinese companies operating in Africa in the fields of finance, telecommunications, energy, manufacturing and agriculture, and creating more than 100,000 local jobs.
"The rapid growth of China-Africa trade has resulted in a sharp increase of African exports, which improves Africa's foreign currency earnings, creates employment opportunities, and accelerates Africa's industrialization," said Liu of Zhejiang Normal University.
In fact, China has always kept every commitment it made to Africa and attached no political strings so that African nations can translate their advantages in natural resources into advantages in development.
Lansana Camara, a political analyst based in Conakry, Guinea, said Chinese companies in the African country filled a vacuum left by global mining firms from the West, sustaining the country's pillar sector and saving a lot of local jobs.
"As the West is still embroiled in economic meltdown and has rolled back investment in Africa, the emergence of Chinese companies is naturally welcomed by Africans," Camara said.
ACCELERATING PEOPLE-TO-PEOPLE EXCHANGES
In an interview with African media before his trip, Li said Africa has the biggest potential in human resources.
China is ready to train more professionals of various types for African countries, and provide more vocational education tailored for African young people to help Africa fully and durably unleash its population dividends, the premier said.
As one saying goes, the key to people-to-people exchanges lies in heart-to-heart communication, he said, noting that China will roll out a series of projects on people-to-people exchanges and cooperation to enrich exchanges between the two peoples and promote their mutual understanding and friendship.
As part of China's public diplomacy effort, Li visited Ethiopian patients who have benefited from the "Bright Journey," a campaign launched by Chinese health authorities to provide free cataract surgical operations and other medical services to local residents.
"During public diplomacy events, Chinese leaders will conduct closer contacts with local residents," said Liu, the former Chinese special envoy.
"This will not only help the public get a direct understanding of China's foreign policy, but also remove misunderstandings caused by some Western countries and media prejudiced against China-Africa relations," he added.
Huang, of the Chinese Research Society of African Affairs, said that compared with trade and economic cooperation, the two sides' enormous potential in cultural exchanges and people-to-people contacts needs to be tapped by governments, non-governmental organizations, and scholars.
According to official statistics, there were 33,000 African students in China last year. By the end of 2013, China had trained 54,000 technicians for African nations, and sent more than 360,000 technicians, young volunteers and agricultural specialists to Africa.
Confucius institutes serve as another channel for African students to access Chinese culture and learn the Chinese language.
Now about 30 Confucius institutes have been set up across Africa, offering various language courses and lectures, exhibitions and performances to African students.
Liu, of Zhejiang Normal University, suggested that future China-Africa cooperation focus on such key areas as people-to-people exchanges, education, and science and technology.
"Africa is in great need of educational resources, while China has an enormous education system," he said.
"China can help Africa train elementary and middle school teachers and provide textbooks and other teaching materials within the framework of UNESCO. This can help build a solid public base for bilateral ties," he added.
Just as Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Ming put it, with rich contents and fruits, Li's visit, another significant diplomatic move taken by the new Chinese leadership under new circumstances, is of great importance for China-Africa cooperation.
"I believe this visit will consolidate the strategic trust between China and Africa, deepen their cooperation in all areas, and raise China-Africa and China-AU relations to a new high," Zhang said.