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China sets dates for Hu in U.S., Mideast and Africa

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BEIJING, Apr 11 (Reuters) Chinese President Hu Jintao will make state visits to the United States, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya from April 18-29, China announced today, ending weeks of speculation about his itinerary.

Hu's four-day US trip will take him to Seattle, Washington DC and then Yale University, where Hu will give a speech on China's foreign policy, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a regular news conference in Beijing.

President George W Bush has said his meeting with Hu will focus on rising US complaints about Chinese trade and currency policies, which many in Washington blame for the United States' 202 billion dollars trade gap with China.

But Liu avoided barbs and stressed that China hopes Hu's visit would ease tensions. ''The goal of this visit is to enhance exchanges and mutual confidence, and to broaden consensus and cooperation between China and the United States,'' he said.

''This visit is a significant strategic opportunity to narrow, even overcome, divisions between the two countries,'' he added. He said the two sides would undoubtedly discuss trade, but did not give details.

China has also pressed Bush to publicly warn Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, who China says is encouraging the self-governed island towards full independence. China claims Taiwan as its own.

Tang Jiaxuan, a former Chinese foreign minister and now a state councillor who oversees foreign policy, told visiting U.S. experts on Monday that Washington should ''clearly oppose and resolutely contain'' any Taiwan moves to formal independence, the official Xinhua News Agency reported overnight.

China has repeatedly said Hu's US trip is a ''state visit'', which implies all the prestigious trappings of a formal meeting between heads of state. The White House is offering Hu plenty of pomp, but has avoided the ''state visit'' label, which few visitors to President Bush receive.

Liu said Hu would discuss energy cooperation during his visit to Saudi Arabia, but he did not specify any agreements.

REUTERS CH KP1534

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