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International relations

Xi off to make friends in Africa and assert control at home

Chinese leader aims to recruit allies in trade war with US

Senegalese President Macky Sall, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping arrive at a new national arena in Dakar for its opening ceremony on July 22.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- Chinese President Xi Jinping is in Africa on a rare 10-day tour, courting allies during a trade showdown against the U.S. and trying to demonstrate his rule's stability in the face of rumored dissatisfaction at home.

Xi's July 19-28 trip is his first overseas since being re-elected as president in March. His stops include the United Arab Emirates, Senegal, Rwanda, South Africa and the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. While in Johannesburg, Xi will attend the five-nation BRICS summit -- with Brazil, Russia and India as well as his hosts.

China's state-run television showed Xi in Senegal Monday at the opening ceremony of a wrestling arena built with Chinese aid, complete with song and dance performances by hundreds of locals to greet him. The People's Daily has devoted much of its front page to his trip for the last several days. As Xi's recent diminished presence on its front page -- perhaps to avoid printing criticism over the trade conflict -- has raised speculation, the Africa tour is meant to signal a return to normal.

Beijing will also host the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in September. Xi's trip lays the groundwork for a successful summit, where he will try to extend China's influence on the continent.

While the U.S. trade war is leading Premier Li Keqiang to strengthen relationships with the European Union and Japan, rumors abound about why Xi put so much time into a trip to Africa and the Middle East. One reason may be to demonstrate his government's stability at home and abroad with a well-choreographed trip, as foreign news outlets report turmoil behind the scenes in Beijing.

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