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MINSK, March 24 (Reuters) - China will loan the former Soviet republic of Belarus $1 billion on favourable terms, the man widely seen as China’s next leader told Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Wednesday.
His visit and the loan vow were fresh signs of growing Chinese interest in the former Soviet Union, and not only in energy-rich Central Asia where it is vying with Russia and the West for access to resources.
“China has taken a decision to grant Belarus favourable credits of $1 billion, which will be used for projects the nations have agreed upon,” Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping said at a meeting with Lukashenko.
Xi, seen as the frontrunner to succeed President Hu Jintao in 2013, gave no more details.
Lukashenko offered Chinese companies wider access to the $50 billion economy of Belarus, which exports potash to China. He also offered fervent support for China’s position on Taiwan.
China has a record of investing in developing nations without the political conditions often demanded by Western countries, for example concerning human rights or democracy.
In power since 1994, Lukashenko’s intolerance of dissent has resulted in sanctions and criticism from the West, but he has taken some steps lately aimed at improving relations with the United States and the European Union.
Lukashenko has been courting nations worldwide, from Venezuela to China, as he seeks to decrease dependence on Russia for energy and trade. (Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Jon Hemming)