The Export-Import Bank of China and the World Bank are planning joint development projects in Africa, a move Beijing hopes will calm international criticism of its growing political and economic clout on the continent. The partnership softens the World Bank's previously tough stance on the role of mainland banks in Africa, which former president Paul Wolfowitz accused last year of irresponsible lending that threatened to place an unmanageable debt burden on some of the world's poorest countries. His successor Robert Zoellick yesterday said that he had raised international concerns about lending practices with Exim Bank governor Li Ruogu, but he refused to condemn what critics have labelled Beijing's 'neo-colonial' approach to doing business in Africa. 'Governor Li and I both agreed we should try to develop a project or projects in Africa during the course of the next year,' Mr Zoellick said in Beijing at the end of a four-day visit. He said the World Bank also hoped to co-operate with Beijing in the Mekong Delta and in the Pacific Islands. 'There's a legitimate concern about building that debt up again,' Mr Zoellick said, acknowledging fears that mainland lenders were imposing new debts on vulnerable nations that only recently won US$50 billion in write-offs from the developed world. '[However], from statistics I have seen, China has paid attention to debt sustainability ... Many of its investments can be beneficial, including investment in infrastructure and training,' he said. The World Bank hoped to work with the Exim Bank to train subcontractors so that mainland companies would employ more African workers on infrastructure projects, he added. Although Mr Zoellick gave no details about any of the potential projects, he said Beijing's rapid move from being a recipient of development aid to being a global contributor was a breakthrough for the country. 'Given China's financial position, it really doesn't need the financial capacity of the World Bank,' he said. Instead, the World Bank would continue to support energy efficiency and environmental projects, with a view to making the mainland a leader in providing green solutions to developing countries. During his visit, Mr Zoellick also met the president of China Development Bank, which is providing US$5 billion for a development fund to finance mainland companies' investments in Africa and earlier this year signed a partnership with Nigeria's United Bank for Africa. In October, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China paid US$5.56 billion for a 20 per cent stake in South Africa's Standard Bank. According to government statistics, China pumped US$6.6 billion of foreign direct investment into the continent from 2000 to last year.