Premier Li Keqiang will announce more aid to Africa during his four-nation tour to the continent starting next Monday, as China shifts its bilateral focus from energy and trade deals to boosting the African people's livelihood, senior officials say.
The move comes amid criticisms that Beijing’s growing economic interests in the region could be harmful to local economies and could exacerbate the foreign exploitation of resources.
More than 60 agreements will be signed with Ethiopia, Nigeria, Angola and Kenya during Li’s week-long visit – his first tour to Africa since rising to the post in March last year – according to officials from the Chinese Foreign Ministry and Commerce Ministry.
Li will deliver a keynote speech on Sino-African ties in the African Union, whose Ethiopian headquarters was funded by China, and the World Economic Forum on Africa, a regional meeting of the Davos fixture, in Nigeria.
The four countries he will visit are among Africa’s top 15 largest economies. Angola is China's biggest source of crude oil, while Kenya is home to various UN agency headquarters, a foreign ministry official explained.
China’s presence in Africa has grown in recent years, funnelling billions of dollars into mining, infrastructure and foreign aid funding. Last year, President Xi Jinping pledged US$20 billion in loans between last year to 2015.
In 2012, China made a grand gesture by funding the US$200 million Addis Ababa headquarters of the African Union, the 54-nation political association seen as Africa’s equivalent of the European Union.
But China’s African strategy has been marred by controversy, with critics accusing Beijing of only being interested in exploiting Africa’s vast mineral and energy resources at the expense of the local community.
Wary observers in Africa have charged China is a “neo-colonialist”, and that the influx of Chinese companies, bringing their own workers, has deprived Africans of jobs.
But deputy minister of commerce Zhang Xiangchen said yesterday that China would focus more on the general livelihood of the African public – in addition to its interests in oil and natural resources.
“We are paying more attention to livelihood issues,” Zhang told a press briefing on Li’s trip. “This is what the African nations need. They believe that economic and livelihood development are equally important. They can boost the economy with enterprises and business activities, but they need government input to boost living standards.
“Over the past years, China focused on building landmark architecture. We will still be doing so in the future, but we will also keep a closer look at issues relating to the public,” he said.
Agreements to build schools and medical facilities will be signed during Li’s trip, Zhang added, but refused to disclose how much aid China would be offering.
Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Ming said at the same briefing that the premier’s visit would inject “new vitality” into Sino-Africa relations, and create positive momentum for the second-largest and second most populous continent in the world at 1.1 billion people.
China has been Africa’s largest trade partner for five consecutive years and a major source of new investment. China’s direct investment stock to Africa reached US$25 billion by the end of last year, Zhang said.