Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) yesterday offered US$20 billion in loans to African countries over the next three years, boosting a relationship that has been criticized by the West and given Beijing growing access to the resource-rich continent.
The loans offered were double the amount China pledged for the previous three-year period in 2009 and they are the latest in a string of aid and credit provided to Africa’s many poverty-stricken nations.
The pledge is likely to boost China’s good relations with Africa, a supplier of oil and raw materials such as copper and uranium to the world’s most populous country and second-largest economy.
However, the loans could add to discomfort in the West, which criticizes China for overlooking human rights abuses in its business dealings with Africa, especially in Beijing’s desire to feed its booming resource-hungry economy.
Hu brushed off such concerns in his speech at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, attended by leaders including South African President Jacob Zuma and Equatorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, a man widely condemned by rights groups as one of the world’s most corrupt leaders.
“China wholeheartedly and sincerely supports African countries to choose their own development path, and will wholeheartedly and sincerely support them to raise their development ability,” Hu said.
China will “continue to steadfastly stand together with the African people, and will forever be a good friend, a good partner and a good brother”, he added at the summit held every three years since 2000.
Hu also pledged to “continue to expand aid to Africa, so that the benefits of development can be realized by the African people.”
He did not provide an amount.
Hu said the new loans would support infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing and the development of small and medium-sized businesses in Africa.
Critics say China supports African governments with dubious human rights records as a means to get access to resources.
The EU has rejected what it calls China’s “checkbook” approach to doing business with Africa, saying it would continue to demand good governance and the transparent use of funds from its trading partners. Such criticism draws rebukes from China that the West still views Africa as though it were a colony. Many African countries say they appreciate China’s no-strings approach to aid.
“Africa’s past economic experience with Europe dictates a need to be cautious when entering into partnerships with other countries,” Zuma told the forum. “We are particularly pleased that in our relationship with China we are equals and that agreements entered into are for mutual gain.”
“We certainly are convinced that China’s intention is different to that of Europe, which to date continues to intend to influence African countries for their sole benefit,” he said.
China’s friendship with Africa dates back to the 1950s, when Beijing backed liberation movements in the continent fighting to throw off Western colonial rule.
Chinese state-owned firms in Africa also face criticism for using imported labor to build government-financed projects such as roads and hospitals, while pumping out raw resources and processing them in China, leaving little for local economies.
“Certainly quite a number of us are thinking we need to move into more value addition,” South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said. “We need to export mineral products in a more processed form ... We need to bite this bullet very seriously.”