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Macron on trip to woo Djibouti amid China's African expansion

AFP  |  Djibouti 

visited former French colony Tuesday with promises of "respectful" partnership in the face of growing African indebtedness to China, fast expanding its foothold on the continent.

Both and Beijing, as well as and the United States, have military bases in East Africa's smallest country due to its strategic location along a key shipping lane leading to the

described Djibouti, the last colony to gain independence from France, as a "historical partner and strategic ally", and "the point of entry" to the Horn of region.

Its geographic importance forms the foundation of Djibouti's hopes of becoming a major trading hub.

Two years ago, it inaugurated its newest and biggest port -- part of an infrastructure expansion, partly funded by China, that includes three other ports and a railroad to the capital of landlocked

hopes to turn into a "new Dubai" competing for business with overcrowded African ports such as Mombasa in

Sandwiched between Ethiopia, and Eritrea, tiny is a crucial part of Beijing's "Belt and Road" global infrastructure initiative along what has been dubbed the "Maritime Silk Road".

It allows to reach and via the

The project has seen lend developing in and huge amounts of money to develop infrastructure and ease trade.

But the (IMF) has sounded the alarm over an increase of Djibouti's public debt from 50 percent of GDP in 2014 to 85 percent in 2017.

The US-based Africa Research Initiative in 2017 estimated Djibouti's debt to at some USD 1.3 billion.

"I would not want international investments to weaken the sovereignty of our partners," said Tuesday, in a reference to China's growing African presence.

"French companies are able to offer a respectful partnership," the added.

Guelleh, who visited Chinese President in 2017, when he described himself as "a great friend of China," told Macron: "There are opportunities for French companies, particularly in the field of infrastructure.

"Our country is open, I have not lost hope that can boost its investments in Djibouti."

Later Tuesday, Macron is to visit the remote Ethiopian town of with its renowned 13th-century church complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The president is expected to announce support for a new protective system to replace the which loom over the erosion-threatened monuments today, much to residents' chagrin.

He is set to conclude his visit with a state dinner in as the country mourns the crash of a 737 just two days earlier that killed all 157 on board.

On Wednesday, he will meet leaders of the before making the first-ever trip to by a French president.

On Thursday, he will attend the Summit in on reversing climate change.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, March 12 2019. 21:51 IST