In an attempt to counter allegations that it is exploiting Africa for its natural resources, China has pledged to help boost development of the poverty-stricken continent and expand its influence in areas other than trade and economics. According to an announcement made on Friday at the conclusion of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, Beijing will become involved in a number of areas including health care and even security operations. But analysts said ties between China and African states are still marred by suspicion and negative sentiments towards the emerging superpower among African people, and both sides are reluctant to support each other in major international issues. China's ties with Africa have been largely based on trade and investment over the past decade. China, which by early this year had poured in direct investment of US$15.3 billion, is one of the major buyers of the continent's oil and other resources. The trade pattern, along with allegations of labour rights violations, led to criticism that China is merely interested in extracting mineral wealth from Africa to feed its booming economy - which doesn't fit Beijing's mantra that the nation's economic rise will not pose problems for others. Even some African leaders, including South African President Jacob Zuma, said such trade patterns were 'unsustainable' in the long term and they want China to diversify its role in the continent. 'Beijing realises that it needs to be perceived as a genuine partner of African nations, not just a pragmatic trade partner interested in what it can extract from the continent,' said John Lee, a China watcher at the University of Sydney's Centre for International Security Studies. Lee said Beijing still suffers from a lack of 'soft power' in Africa even though government-to-government relations have been good. 'China is attempting to counter the perception of many Africans that it does not care about local populations,' Lee said. Among the measures announced by President Hu Jintao at the forum, which is held every three years, were the provision of US$20 billion in loans to the Africa over the next three years - double the amount pledged at the previous forum. China will also give financial support to African Union peacekeeping missions, send health care workers to the continent, encourage cultural exchanges and encourage Chinese companies to participate in cross-border infrastructure and financial projects. The measures come six months after China handed over a new, US$200 million African Union headquarters complex in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Analysts said China has practical political needs to get closer to Africa after years of boosting economic ties. 'China is on track to becoming a major global power, and it needs some strategic partners,' said He Wenping , a specialist in African affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 'As China's investment in Africa continues to rise, it is inevitable the country will become more influential in the continent.' Xu Weizhong , another African affairs specialist at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said China could project the image that it is fulfilling its responsibility as a large nation by pledging help to Africa. China and Africa could exert pressure on, if not prevent, the United Nations passing any resolution the two sides found embarrassing. 'Africa can back China on occasions such as when China's human rights is under the spotlight,' Xu said. 'China and Africa believe Western countries have only focused on issues such as human rights but ignored development needs. China wants to join hands with Africa.' In addition to the benefits of economic ties, partnering with China enables Africa to enhance its bargaining power with the West. 'Africa did not really have any international partners other than the West in past years,' Xu said. 'With China involved in African affairs, African states have at least got a choice other than the West. This puts African nations in a better diplomatic position.' But relationships between Beijing and African states will remain problematic as Beijing's interest in the continent's natural resources deepen. Given the weak environmental and labour standards of Chinese companies, analysts said many Africans remain wary of China. Lee said intensifying security co-operation with the African Union and pledging help in non-economic aspects was a tactic to protect its trade and resource interests in Africa. 'The government-to-government relationship is very much a client-based relationship based on 'no strings attached' loans rather than one of genuine intimacy,' he said. The lack of transparency in the supply of conventional arms from China to Africa has led to concerns that China was supporting rebels or groups with poor human rights records, much to Beijing's chagrin. Beijing is also frustrated by allegations that it supports authoritarian regimes, even though it has blocked UN Security Council resolutions on Africa over the years. 'China would not want to be in the spotlight for supporting or defending all activities by some African governments, particularly with respect to large-scale human rights abuses,' Lee said. 'China will continue to improve the relationship but will be reluctant to expend too much international political capital or reputation doing so.'