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Mbeki in first China trip

Mbeki, Jiang
Mbeki is visiting China for the first time  

BEIJING, China -- South African President Thabo Mbeki has begun his first trip to China in a bid to boost ties with the communist country.

Mbeki was joined by business leaders and diplomats on Monday eager to hammer out agreements on the eve of China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Following talks with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Mbeki attended the launch of a bilateral commission to deal with the nuts and bolts of cooperation.

There he talked about exploring ways of boosting investments in their economies as well as imports and exports, Reuters news agency reported.

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Relations have blossomed between the two countries since South Africa restored full diplomatic ties with China in 1998 after recognizing Beijing's claim to govern Taiwan, which it views as a breakaway province.

Last year, China was South Africa's 10th most important export market.

China, which is predicting annual GDP growth of 7.4 percent this year, is looking to South Africa as a source of the foreign direct investment it needs to maintain that growth.

South Africa hopes China will invest much-needed, and fast evaporating foreign funds into the country.

Room for more trade

Mbeki said South Africa was China's biggest trade partner in Africa, but added there was room for improvement.

"Already, we have identified the need for closer cooperation in a number of areas, including mining, telecommunications and manufacturing," he told Reuters.

More than half of South Africa's exports to China last year were mining-related, with iron ores and concentrates accounting for some 30 percent.

South African Ambassador Themba Mn Kubheka said the two countries' mineral and energy ministers planned to meet during the visit.

In addition, the ministers of trade and industry, agriculture, tourism, defense and technology, and foreign affairs were traveling with the South African leader.

Mbeki, the first head of state to visit China since it was given approval to enter the WTO last month, congratulated China on its "well-deserved" accession to the trade body.

He will be in the country when it formally joins the trade body on Tuesday.

Mbeki and Jiang were expected to sign an extradition treaty during the state visit, a diplomat said.

"Our political relations can only go from strength to strength," Mbeki said.

Mbeki was scheduled to give a speech at Beijing's Tsinghua University on Tuesday before traveling to China's financial center, Shanghai, where he will meet top city officials.


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