Multibillion-dollar gift to Africa intended to help forge closer links with the continent China has pledged to double its aid to Africa and expand bilateral trade to US$100 billion by 2010 as part of a multibillion-dollar package covering trade, investment, debt relief and personnel training. The wide-ranging aid package - unveiled yesterday by President Hu Jintao at the opening of the China-Africa summit - is aimed at forging closer links with the resource-rich continent and is expected to be delivered over the next three years. Addressing 48 African leaders at the Great Hall of the People, Mr Hu said it was in the interests of China to upgrade its already flourishing ties into a strategic partnership. 'Common destiny and common goals have brought us together,' he said. He said China had consistently supported African anti-colonial liberation movements and had provided five decades of aid, through both manpower and financial assistance. Meanwhile, most African countries supported Beijing's 'one China policy' aimed at isolating Taiwan; support, Mr Hu said, that testified to the friendly ties between Africa and China. Mr Hu promised to increase aid to underdeveloped African nations, announcing that China would provide a basket of loans, debt relief and expertise in trade, infrastructure, education, training and the medical sector. 'China will double its 2006 assistance to Africa by 2009,' he said. Beijing plans to provide US$3 billion in preferential loans and US$2 billion in preferential credit to the continent in the next three years, while creating a US$5 billion fund to encourage Chinese investment there, he said. Beijing would also forgive more debt in the form of interest-free government loans owed by those poorest African countries that have diplomatic ties with China. To date, China has offered 10.9 billion yuan in debt relief to 31 African countries. Mr Hu said China would further open up its market by increasing from 190 to 440 the number of African export items to China that have tariff-free import status. Chinese enterprises will be encouraged to establish three to five trade and economic co-operation zones in Africa by 2009. China will train 15,000 African professionals and double to 4,000 the number of scholarships given to African students by 2009. As part of the aid package, Beijing will also build 100 rural schools, 30 hospitals, 30 malaria treatment facilities, and a conference centre for the African Union, while sending agriculture experts and youth volunteers to Africa. At an afternoon meeting with Chinese and African business leaders, Premier Wen Jiabao predicted that bilateral trade, which had become a new engine in boosting ties, would top US$100 billion by 2010. Trade between China and Africa increased tenfold over the past decade, reaching almost US$40 billion last year. It reached US$40.6 billion in the first nine months of this year and is expected to hit a record of US$50 billion by year's end. 'Although China's trade has been running a deficit against Africa in recent years, China still hopes to further expand its import from African countries,' Mr Wen said. Aware that Beijing has faced criticism that its energy and trade links with Africa represent a form of neocolonialism, Mr Wen urged Chinese investors doing business in Africa to be sensitive to the well-being of local people, paying attention to their environmental and social concerns. 'China's aid to Africa should give priority to public welfare projects, especially those dealing with agriculture, poverty alleviation, medical care, education, sports, water supply, housing and environmental protection,' Mr Wen said. 'Aid projects must be carried out in line with international practice.'