China pledges to double aid to Africa

China celebrated its friendly relations with Africa on Saturday by pledging to double aid to the continent over the next three years in a summit aimed at deepening political and trade ties with nearly 50 African nations.

Chinese President Hu Jintao touted “the common pursuit of friendship, peace, cooperation and development” with Africa at the official opening of the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.

“Our meeting today will make history,” he said in his speech to African leaders attending the summit. “The forum serves as an important platform and effective mechanism for conducting collective dialogue, exchanging experience in governance and enhancing mutual trust and cooperation between China and African countries.”

Hu announced fresh pledges of aid and loans in the next three years, saying China’s aid to Africa will double by 2009, but stopped short of disclosing the value.

China will also provide $3-billion of preferential loans and $2-billion of preferential buyer’s credits loan to the continent, he said. Beijing will also cancel more debt owed by poor African countries in the form of interest-free government loans.

Business is a major focus of the summit, with more than 2 500 deals under discussion.

Hu pledged China will further open up its market to Africa by increasing the number of tariff-free export products from 190 to 440 and establish three to five trade and economic cooperation zones in Africa.

A $5-billion development fund to encourage Chinese companies to invest in Africa will also be set up.

“China will forever be a good friend, good partner, good brother of Africa,” Hu told the 48 African countries represented at the Great Hall of the People. “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.”

A total of 41 African heads of state and government, a vice-president and several top economic leaders are representing their nations at the meeting, according to China’s Foreign Ministry.

Trade between China and Africa is expected to exceed $50-billion this year, a near-tenfold increase since 1995, and one of the main themes of the China-Africa forum is ensuring that number continues to grow.

China’s need to source more natural resources from Africa—including oil, iron ore, timber, cotton and minerals—has attracted the most interest from the Western world, which is watching the deepening ties with some nervousness.

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.

Banners proclaiming Sino-African “friendship, cooperation, development and peace” have been pasted on seemingly every major street in downtown Beijing in recent weeks, while more than 750 000 cars have been ordered off the roads during the summit.

Official events began on Friday with a ministerial conference that laid the groundwork for the weekend gathering, with Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and Commerce Minister Bo Xilai also hosting a lunch for their guests.—Sapa-AFP

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