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China's Xi to visit S.Africa this month

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

China's incoming president Xi Jinping will visit regional economic powerhouse South Africa this month, the foreign ministry said Thursday, a highly symbolic trip that will come soon after he takes up the post.

"On the 26 (March) there will be state visit of China in Pretoria," said spokesman Clayson Monyela.

Xi will then attend a summit of the BRICS nations -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- in the port city of Durban.

The trip is being seen as a sign that China's drive for deeper economic ties with Africa will continue during Xi's term as China's paramount leader.

Sino-African trade has ballooned in the last decade and is now worth around $160 billion a year.

The continent provides many of the raw materials that feed China's vast manufacturing sector.

"It is sending a clear signal the policy toward Africa will continue," said Martyn Davies a China expert and CEO of Frontier Advisory.

Xi's visit to the BRICS summit is also being seen as significant.

"It just highlights the shift in the balance of geo-political and increasingly geo-economic power from the West to the new world," said Davies.

At the summit, BRICS leaders are expected to finalise plans to create a joint development bank and to discuss pooling their vast foreign currency reserves.

Xi's visit to South Africa is expected to conclude on March 28.

Xi is set to officially become China's president during a meeting of the National People's Congress, which began on Tuesday.

He replaces Hu Jintao, who has led China for a decade and who spearheaded the push for deeper ties with Africa.

In 2004 Hu embarked on a three-nation tour of the continent and in 2006 hosted a landmark summit of 48 African nations in Beijing.

While Chinese trade and political ties with Africa have boomed, they have not been without troubles.

In many African nations there is anger that Chinese investments have spelt jobs for Chinese expats rather than locals.

Earlier this month the government of resource-rich Zambia seized control of a controversial Chinese-owned coal company.

In 2012 workers at the mine killed a Chinese manager Wu Shengzai during rioting over work conditions.

But analysts said South Africa's ruling African National Congress will also look for the next visit to cement ties with the Chinese Communist Party.

"South Africa does see China as source of resources, whether those resources go to the economy or the governing party," said Stephen Friedman, a political scientist at the University of Johannesburg.

ANC officials visit China often to learn how the Communist Party operates.

In a sign of the closeness of ties, in 2011 the South African government risked a domestic backlash by dragging its heels on a visa application by the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing regards as a terrorist.

The Tibetan spiritual leader tried and failed to attend the 80th birthday of Desmond Tutu, who blasted the ANC as "worse than the apartheid government".

South Africa's supreme court of appeals later ruled the move unlawful.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130307/chinas-xi-visit-safrica-month