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African leaders vow to improve trade ties with China

ADDIS ABABA, July 17 (Xinhua) -- African leaders have pledged to strengthen economic ties and cooperation with China and attract more Chinese investments in infrastructure and transportation.

Kadre Ouedraogo, head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), told Xinhua on Monday that African leaders were eager to open new offices in China as African economies continue benefitting from China's growth.

"We look forward to strengthening the cooperation. I would personally be in Beijing for this meeting," Ouedraogo said on the sidelines of an African Union summit, referring to the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) to be held in Beijing on Thursday.

The ECOWAS Commission president said the trade relations between the member states of the bloc and China are essential to promoting regional integration, stressing the importance of the Chinese investments in areas of infrastructure.

Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe said his country is preparing to establish a new diplomatic hub in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.

Membe also spoke highly of the Tanzania-Zambia Railway (TAZARA), one of China's most visible investments in Africa's infrastructure, which was completed in 1975 and has helped Africa open up to trade.

Kenyan Assistant Foreign Minister Richard Onyonka proposed to increase the trade volumes between Africa and China in the agricultural sector, noting that the two sides have much potential to tap.

Meanwhile, African leaders said the African Union's (AU) policy of improving the bloc's international relations has contributed to the closer cooperation with China, and ECOWAS would continue strengthening ties with Chinese investors through direct meetings.

Ouedraogo said Africa would also seek to attract more Chinese investments in transportation, and Onyonka called for increased tourist inflow to Kenya from China.

Moreover, AU Commissioner for Economic Affairs Maxwell Mkwezalamba said the latest leadership change of the AU Commission, carried out at the just-concluded AU Summit, will not alter the relations with China.

"China's presence is welcome in Africa. ... I do not see any change in policy direction as a result of the leadership change," Mkwezalamba said.