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World Bank eyes Africa projects with China

The World Bank is planning joint projects in Africa with China’s Export-Import Bank to address concerns that Beijing is taking more than it gives as it scours the continent for oil and minerals.

World Bank president Robert Zoellick, wrapping up a four-day trip to China, said the pros and cons of the country’s push into Africa had been an important topic during his talks with senior officials including Ex-Im Bank governor Li Ruogu.

Chinese investors were building infrastructure and generating revenues for poor countries. But tapping Africa’s natural resources also highlighted the need to ensure transparency and avoid corruption, Zoellick told a news conference.

”Governor Li and I both agreed we should try to develop a project or projects in Africa during the course of the next year,” Zoellick said.

He gave no details but said he had discussed with Li how the World Bank could help to train sub-contractors so that Ex-Im Bank can meet its goal of employing more African workers.

China’s hunger for minerals to feed its industrial machine has led some critics to accuse it of practising a new colonialism in Africa.

Another charge is that, by lending eagerly across the continent, China is imposing unmanageable new debt burdens on impoverished nations that only recently won $50-billion in write-offs from rich countries.

”There’s a legitimate concern about building that debt up again,” Zoellick said. ”From statistics I have seen, China has paid attention to debt sustainability, and there is certainly a willingness to discuss that issue because they want to get paid back, too,” he said.

The theme of his news conference, and of his visit, was that the World Bank must engage China as a ”stakeholder” that shares responsibility in global economic issues — a conscious echo of a position Zoellick advocated in a widely noted speech in September 2005 when he was Deputy United States Secretary of State.

As well as cooperating in Africa, he said the World Bank hoped to work with China in the Mekong Delta and the South Pacific. New Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had expressed interest in joining the Pacific Islands effort, Zoellick added.

Beijing’s step last week in joining the list of donors to the World Bank arm that channels grants and concessional loans to the poorest countries was an example of ”China being a stakeholder in the field of development”, Zoellick said.

He called China’s contribution to the International Development Association a ”modest but significant” step by a country that was receiving IDA funds less than a decade ago and said it did not portend a diminution in the World Bank’s commitment to China.

”By being a good partner with China on issues within China, it will help us develop a stronger partnership with China in third countries,” he said. ”I leave with the sense that we have the prospects for a very cooperative and constructive partnership.” – Reuters

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