Hu vows US$20b loans to Africa

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 July, 2012, 12:00am


President Hu Jintao pledged US$20 billion in fresh loans to Africa over the next three years as Beijing seeks to expand ties with the continent, beyond trade in natural resources.

Hu made the pledge at a ceremony marking the start of the two-day Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, attended by South African President Jacob Zuma and other leaders. The assistance would be aimed at supporting infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing and the development of small and medium-sized businesses in Africa.

'China and Africa share a common destiny, and the ... friendship is cherished by both the Chinese and African people,' Hu said. 'We will continue to stand firm with the African people, and will forever be a good friend, a good partner and a good brother.'

China pledged to provide US$5 billion in loans to Africa in 2006, and doubled the amount to US$10 billion three years later.

Hu said China would promote stability in the region and provide 'financial support for African Union peacekeeping missions'.

Mainland companies would be encouraged to invest in infrastructure and financial projects in Africa. Beijing would also send health care workers to the continent, and seek to foster exchanges among media organisations.

China's involvement in Africa has been expanding over the past decade. Total direct investment there reached US$15.3 billion in the first four months of the year.

But China's trade has been restricted largely to infrastructure and raw materials projects, leading to concerns that Beijing is exploiting Africa for its energy reserves.

Zuma told the forum that bilateral trade should be expanded beyond raw materials, calling it 'unsustainable in the long term'.

Thomas Yayi Boni, president of the small West African country of Benin, echoed Zuma's call. 'Africa does not want to be only a source of raw materials and just a market for consumption,' Boni said.

However, both Zuma and Boni said China was treating Africa as an equal.

'We certainly are convinced that China's intention is different from that of Europe, which to date continues to try to influence African countries only for its benefit,' Zuma said.

Beijing's approach to Africa has drawn concern from some critics, who say China overlooks human rights abuses on the continent as it pursues 'cheque book' diplomacy.

Other critics say China has been supplying arms to rebel groups in various African nations and that Chinese companies with operations on the continent import their own workers instead of hiring locals.

But Hu said China treated Africa with sincerity, and urged the international community to increase assistance. 'We should oppose the practice of the big bullying the small, the strong dominating the weak and the rich suppressing the poor,' he said.

Xu Weizhong , an African affairs expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said the pledges made by China yesterday indicated Beijing's plan to broaden the spectrum of its impact on the continent, especially in security matters.

'As China deepens its ties with Africa, Beijing is turning to areas that it has not paid attention to previously,' he said. 'Beijing believes it is crucial to enhance security ties with Africa following attacks against Chinese concerns in the continent, and it needs to be more proactive.'