Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao offered Africa $10 billion in concessional loans over the next three years, saying China was a “true and trusted friend” of the continent and its people.
The aid offer is double that unveiled by President Hu Jintao at the last summit in Beijing in 2006, as China aims to boost a relationship which politically goes back decades and is now economically booming, to the discomfort of some in the West.
Wen brushed aside concerns that China was only interested in Africa’s natural resources to help feed its booming economy.
“China’s support for Africa’s development is real and solid and, in the future, no matter what turbulence the world undergoes, our friendship with the people of Africa will not change,” he told a summit yesterday in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Besides the loans, Wen said China would help Africa develop clean energy and cope with climate change, encourage Chinese financial institutions to lend to smaller African firms and expand market access for African products.
He also called for greater international help for the continent.
“Africa’s development is an essential part of achieving global development, and as the sincere and dependable friend of Africa, China deeply feels the difficulties and challenges faced by Africa,” Wen said.
“China calls on the international community to enhance its sense of urgency, and support Africa’s development in an even truer and more effective way.”
Blossoming trade and business ties have attracted Western accusations that Beijing is only interested in African resources, while Chinese commentators respond that envious Europeans still treat the continent like a colony.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi welcomed China’s offer of aid. “We the African leaders are able to take the necessary measures to be able to benefit from the opportunities created by our partnership with China in a manner that is consistent with our principles of solidarity.”
China’s friendship with Africa dates from the 1950s, when Beijing backed liberation movements fighting colonial rule.
Trade has risen sharply in the past decade, driven by China’s hunger for resources to power its economic boom and African demand for cheap Chinese products.
Still, this has not been without its critics, who say China is only interested in African resources and supports governments with dubious human rights records as a means to get them.
The summit was attended by the presidents of Zimbabwe and Sudan, two countries often under fire for their rights records.
Wen repeated that China would not interfere in the internal politics of any African country.
“The Chinese government and people have always respected the autonomous right of the African people to choose their own social systems. China’s support and aid for Africa has never and will never attach any political conditions.”
Some Chinese commentators have not been so diplomatic in the days running up to the summit, saying the West still views Africa as though it were a colony.
“The West is envious of China and Africa drawing closer,” popular Chinese tabloid the Global Times, published by Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, wrote on Tuesday.
“Europeans view Africa as their own backyard,” the newspaper quoted Chinese Africa expert Xu Weizhong as saying. “Of course they feel uncomfortable about the arrival of the Chinese.”
Some Africans say China’s approach differs from that of Europe or the United States.
“China’s policy is based on mutual development. Few Western countries have a foreign policy like this most are about telling Africans what to do,” said Kwaku Atuahene-Gima, executive director of the Africa programme at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai.