China celebrated its relations with Africa yesterday by pledging to double aid and offering US$5 billion in loans and credits by 2009 in a summit aimed at deepening ties with the continent.
Chinese President Hu Jintao (
"Our meeting [yesterday] will make history," Hu told 48 African countries represented at the Great Hall of the People.
"China will forever be a good friend, good partner and good brother of Africa," he said in his speech.
"Common development is the shared aspiration of the Chinese and African peoples ... We are committed to pursuing mutually beneficial cooperation to bring the benefits of development to our peoples," Hu said.
Hu announced fresh pledges of aid and loans in the next three years, saying China's aid would double by 2009, but stopped short of disclosing the value.
China would also provide US$3 billion of preferential loans and US$2 billion of preferential buyer's credit loans to the continent, he said.
Beijing would also cancel more debt owed by poor African states in the form of interest-free government loans, he announced.
China had already canceled the debt of 31 poor African nations worth 10.9 billion yuan (US$1.36 billion) during the past five decades.
Hu pledged China would further open up its market to Africa by increasing the number of tariff-free export products from 190 to 440 and would establish three to five trade and economic cooperation zones in Africa.
In a business forum later, Premier Wen Jiabao (
"China will continue to open its market and will encourage Chinese enterprises to increase African imports," he told African leaders and entrepreneurs.
A US$5 billion development fund to encourage Chinese companies to invest in Africa would be set up, Hu announced.
Trade between China and Africa last year amounted to US$39.7 billion -- nearly a tenfold increase from 1995 -- and was likely to reach US$50 billion this year, according to Chinese officials earlier.
Oil is a big part of that rise, with China last year importing 34.7 million tonnes of crude from Africa, accounting for 30 percent of its oil imports, according to official statistics.
China's need to source more natural resources from Africa, such as oil, iron ore, timber, cotton and minerals, has attracted the most interest from the West, which is watching the deepening ties with some nervousness.
But despite criticism from the West on many counts, including the accusation that China is encouraging human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and Sudan, China and Africa insist that increasing trade and cooperation is a win-win situation.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, the host of the last forum, said Africa's partnership with China was based on "trust and mutual confidence."
China has described the event as its biggest and most important international gathering since the founding of the Communist regime in 1949, and has taken remarkable measures to dress up Beijing to impress its guests.