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China President Xi welcomed in Senegal at start of Africa trip

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Dakar on Saturday on a four-nation visit seeking deeper ties.

Senegalese President Macky Sall

China's President Xi Jinping has arrived to Senegal for a two-day visit, the first leg of an Africa tour that will also see him head to Rwanda, South Africa and Mauritius.

Senegalese President Macky Sall on Saturday welcomed his counterpart to the capital, Dakar. The two leaders, who are meeting for the third time, are expected to sign a number of bilateral deals.

Xi is also expected to formally hand Sall the keys to a Chinese-built wrestling venue, a hugely popular sport in Senegal.

China is already Senegal's second-biggest trading partner behind France. China's Ambassador to Senegal Zhang Xun was quoted in the local press in March as saying Beijing had invested $100m in Senegal in 2017.

China is Africa's biggest trading partner and Xi's tour marks his second trip abroad since starting a second term under new rules that abolished term limits,

Xi's visit to Rwanda will be the first by a Chinese president. In South Africa, he will attend a summit of BRICS countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, before visiting Mauritius for a stopover.

Africa is in the midst of a boom in infrastructure projects, managed and cheaply financed by China and part of Xi's "Belt and Road" initiative to build a transport network connecting China by land and sea to Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

China has pledged $126bn for the plan, which has been praised by its supporters as a source of vital financing for the developing world.

In Senegal, Chinese loans have financed a highway linking Dakar to Touba, its second main city, and part of an industrial park on the Dakar peninsula.

Critics say Africa is loading itself up on Chinese debt that it may struggle to repay, with estimates ranging in the tens of billions of dollars. That could leave African nations with no choice but to hand over controlling stakes in strategic assets to the Chinese state.

US officials have warned that a port in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, a host to US and French military bases, could suffer this fate, although Djibouti rejects the fear.

In Guinea, meanwhile, one of the world's poorest nations, China is lending $20bn to the government in exchange for aluminium ore concessions.

As well as trade and minerals, China has also seen Africa as a source of political support.

Chinese diplomacy has, as of May this year, succeeded in isolating every African country except the monarchy of Swaziland from Taiwan, which China sees as a renegade province.

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