Chinese President Jiang Zemin was to begin a tour of six Latin American countries this coming Thursday in a bid to increase China's economic and trade links with them.
Jiang's first foreign trip of the new millennium demonstrates China's good wishes of and interest in the region.
"An important aspect of the visit is to help increase the economic and trade ties between China and Latin America and to expand the cooperation in various fields," Qiu Xiaoqi, Latin American director of the ministry for foreign affairs said.
Beijing has embarked on a recent drive to boost its trade with Latin America, which rose by 52.2 percent over last year.
Apart from his wife Wang Yeping and the vice premier Qian Qichen, Jiang will be accompanied by Zeng Peiyan, minister for the State Development Planning Commission, and Shi Guangsheng, minister for foreign trade and economic cooperation.
The delegation is due to visit Chile (April 5-7), Argentina (April 7-9), Uruguay (April 10-11), Brazil (April 11-12), Cuba (April 12-15), before finishing in Venezuela (April 15-17).
These countries are important suppliers of raw materials for Chinese industry, which buys copper from Chile, wool from Uruguay and has investments in Venezuelan petrol projects.
Jiang hopes to sign around 20 agreements on trade, investment, the economy, education and sport. He is also hoping to seal agreements on the environment and judicial cooperation with Argentina.
China has recently been working with Brazil in the field of technology. Beijing launched in October 1999 the first of four satellites able to detect the earth's surface with Brazil. In the same year, it bought 10 of the regionally built Embraer planes.
"Mr Jiang's visit comes at a time of favored bilateral relations," said the Brazilian embassy. The two countries are benefiting from working together, it added.
China, which hosted its first mass meeting with African heads of state in Beijing last year, is beginning to work with third world countries rather than just relying on Asia.
"China is looking to consolidate its position in an important region to work for world economic growth and peace," observed one South American diplomat.
The Chinese president is also hoping to reinforce Beijing's influence over the 13 countries principally in central America and the Caribbean, which still have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, analysts say.
Accusing Taiwan of corrupting the small states, Qiu has appealed to them to reject "money diplomacy" and transfer recognition to Beijing.
"We attach importance to our relations with these countries. We hope that we will be able to normalize our ties," he said.