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Posted: 1/9/2006 6:10:10 PM EDT
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Morales: China’s help is welcome
BEIJING (AP) – Bolivian President-Elect Evo Morales on Monday met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and called China an “ideological ally,” a day after he invited the communist country to develop Bolivia’s vast gas reserves.



Morales’ visit to China came at a propitious time for Beijing, which is also eager to develop links with Latin America. China sees nations like Bolivia as new sources of fuel and raw materials as well as new markets for its exports.

The left-leaning Morales, who is on a world tour that includes stops in Europe and South Africa, told Hu he made visiting China a priority because he considers China to be a “political, ideological and programmatic ally of the Bolivian people.”

“I have a new responsibility. It’s a new experience for me, so I hope to count on the help of your government and your party,” Morales told Hu after the two leaders shook hands and posed for photos at the Great Hall of the People, China’s legislative seat.

Hu promised to encourage “strong and prestigious” Chinese companies to invest in Bolivia, the official Xinhua News Agency re-ported.

The Chinese leader also said the two governments should expand cooperation in technology, medical services and education, the report said.

On Sunday, Morales met with State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, a senior Cabinet official, and invited China to help with his country’s gas industry after it carries out plans to nationalize its reserves.

Western governments have been alarmed by Morales’ plans to na-tionalize Bolivia’s gas resources.

Carlos Villegas, an economic adviser to Morales, said Bolivia wants private companies to remain as partners to develop them and will renegotiate existing contracts following Morales’ Jan. 22 inauguration.
Villegas said Morales wants to develop industries to turn Bolivia’s gas into more profitable products such as cleaner-burning diesel instead of exporting it as a low-priced raw material.

Morales, a former Indian activist, said he also hoped to build ties between Bolivia’s socialist movement and China’s ruling Communist Party.

Since his election last month, Morales has met with Cuban President Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, a sign of a growing relationship between the three leftist leaders that has concerned Washington. Morales’ spokesman, Alex Contreras, called the three countries “an axis of good,” a play on President Bush’s labeling of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the “axis of evil.”

Morales, who vowed during his campaign to be Washington’s “nightmare,” is willing to visit the U.S. but hasn’t been invited, Con-treras said. Morales has toned down some of his fiery campaign rhetoric since his election, promising Boli-via’s business leaders that he will create a climate favorable to foreign investment and jobs.

China, as part of its push for links to Latin America, has signed deals to develop Venezuelan oil fields, and its investments in the region include a Brazilian steel mill and copper mines in Chile and Peru.

For their part, Brazil, Argentina and other nations look to China as a source of investment and markets for their own exports. Beijing has become a regular stop for Latin American leaders traveling with large business delegations.

Beijing’s interest is almost purely commercial, said Zhu Hongbo, a professor at the Latin American Research Institute of Shanghai’s Fudan University.

“People should not worry that China is seeking political and military interests there,” Zhu said, adding that where Beijing develops political ties, it is to “guarantee the economic development.”

China imports an estimated 40 percent of its oil, and analysts expect consumption to surge in coming years despite official efforts to increase use of alternative energy sources.
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