China aid pledges to Africa hailed

November 9, 2009 12:00 am

, SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Nov 9 – China’s pledge of 10 billion dollars in concessional loans to African states and enhanced trade was warmly received by African delegates as a two-day summit in Egypt ended on Monday.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s aid promise was welcomed despite some lingering suspicions that Beijing is interested in Africa only for its resources, including oil, to fuel a booming economy.

The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, or FOCAC, began on Sunday with Wen announcing the 10 billion dollars in loans among a series of measures to be implemented before the next forum, due in 2012.

FOCAC meets every three years.

At a news conference at the end of the gathering in Egypt’s resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, China’s Commerce Minister Chen Deming also promised to open Chinese markets to African exports and help Africa adapt to climate change.

Chinese companies will be directed to "assume more social responsibility in Africa and create job opportunities in African countries so the people of Africa can get the benefits from Sino-African cooperation," he said.

In an earlier speech, Chen said Beijing was "committed to… going all out to assist African countries in improving their agricultural production and infrastructure."

Wen said on Sunday China’s package of assistance and investment in the African continent would focus on reducing poverty and aid for infrastructure and agriculture.

China is also promising to remove tariffs on most goods from the least developed African countries.

On Monday Chen said Beijing’s aid was "selfless and unconditional."

The Asian giant’s pledges have received an enthusiastic reception from African delegations, despite some accusations that China’s interest in Africa focuses on its abundant natural resources, including oil.

Throughout the gathering, Chinese officials repeatedly addressed such accusations, with Wen on Sunday calling them "untenable."

"Our assistance towards Africa is based on improving people’s lives and protecting the environment," Chen told Monday’s news conference.

China has also been accused of throwing a lifeline to African regimes accused of human rights violations and creating further debt among nations on the continent.

But Chen said that China would exempt heavily indebted countries from paying low interest loans due this year.

African officials have welcomed the pledges, and insisted that they have the independence to choose what aid they receive from Beijing.

"You don’t take what the Chinese offer you 100 percent, you take what suits you," Zainab Bangura, Sierra Leone’s foreign minister, told AFP.

Bangura said China has built hospitals and roads in the poverty-ridden country.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula defended the burgeoning relationship between Nairobi and Beijing, saying Africa was a victim of European double standards.

"Africa is hungry for development. Africa has lagged behind for too long (and) has always been treated and judged with very, very lopsided standards," Wetangula told AFP.

"The standards that Europe has been imposing on Africa are not the same standards Europe imposes on Eastern Europe, for example," he said.

"And here the Chinese are coming and saying: ‘You want a railway line? We have the money and the technology to build it for you.’ Who will not take that?"

Wetangula also said Kenya would not take sides between China and the United States in competing for influence in the continent.

"We are not abandoning our traditional friends for China. We will not engage any contact that discards old friends for new friends."

Both Wetangula and Bangura said they also wanted to see more trade between African countries themselves, which Wetangula said stood only at only 10 percent of the continent’s trade.


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