Chinese vice-president Li Yuanchao kicked off a three-day visit to Zambia on Wednesday by signing development loan and grant agreements worth US$64 million.
Li and his Zambian counterpart, Guy Scott, signed a US$32 million interest-free loan and a grant of similar value for economic and technical aid.
Zambia will use the funds to improve its water network system in rural areas, upgrade the country’s only international airport in Lusaka and improve education facilities, among a raft of other projects.
Today Li is set to hold talks with President Michael Sata, who as an opposition leader railed against the growing Chinese presence in Zambia.
Sata has however softened his tone since coming to power in 2011 after realising the importance of Chinese investment to the Zambian economy.
Li was also set to meet Zambia’s independence hero Kenneth Kaunda today.
Local media reported that eight agreements would be penned during Li’s visit.
China is Zambia’s top foreign investor, but relations have occasionally been tense because of China’s influence in Africa’s copper giant.
A Chinese manager was killed during a 2012 riot over wages at a coal mine.
Besides their involvement in copper and coal mining, Chinese companies are building roads and revamping Zambia’s international airport and stadiums.
China’s insatiable demand for Zambia’s natural resources along with its willingness to grow jobs and fund vital infrastructure projects have meant that the [ruling Patriotic Front] has strengthened economic and diplomatic links since coming to office,” said risk analyst Charles Laurie of London-based Maplecroft.
Bilateral trade rose to US$3.8 billion last year, from US$3.4 billion in 2012.
China’s ambassador to Zambia, Zhou Yuxiao, said the trip is aimed at further boosting “government-to-government and party-to-party relations between our two countries”.
Scott announced at the signing ceremony that Zambia would give China 200 hectares of land to be developed into a memorial burial site for 64 Chinese workers who died during the construction of the Tanzania Zambia Railways (Tazara) between 1970 and 1975.
The 1,860-kilometre railway line – one of China’s most ambitious projects in Africa – runs from Tanzania’s major seaport of Dar es Salaam to the heart of Zambia’s copper belt.
Li, who is accompanied by 21 businessmen and Communist Party officials, is also expected to meet senior Patriotic Front officials before flying out of the country on Saturday.
China's clout and investments in the continent has been surging, with China becoming Africa's biggest economic partner.
Last month, Premier Li Keqiang told the African Union that trade volume with Africa would double by 2020 to US$400 billion.
China will increase credit lines to Africa by US$10 billion and will boost the China-Africa Development Fund by US$2 billion, bringing the latter to a total of US$5 billion, Li had said without giving a time frame. It also promised to help Africa build high-speed railways and other infrastructure..
But trips by Chinese leaders to Africa are often marked by big natural resource deals, triggering criticism from some quarters that China is only interested in the continent's resource wealth.
With additional reporting from Reuters