Sunday, November 08, 2009

China to give Africa $10 billion in loans: Wen

(AFP) – 08 Nov 2009
China to give Africa $10 billion in loans: Wen
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao pledged to give African countries 10 billion dollars in concessional loans as a two-day Forum on China-Africa Cooperation opened in Egypt on Sunday.

"We will help Africa build up its financing capabilities... we will provide 10 billion US dollars for Africa in concessional loans," Wen told the forum in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

His pledge was included among measures he said would be taken over the next three years, including cancelling debts of African countries to increase his country's role in the continent.

The Asian giant pledged five billion dollars in assistance over three years at the last Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summit, held in Beijing in 2006, and has signed agreements to relieve or cancel the debt of 31 African nations.

It will also provide a one-billion-dollar loan for "for small- and medium-sized businesses," Wen said.

"China is ready to deepen practical cooperation in Africa," he said, adding that Beijing was prepared to take on a role in "the settlement of issues of peace and security."

China will also remove tariffs on 95 percent of products "from the least-developed African states that have diplomatic relations with China," he said.

Wen added that China would set up environmental programmes in the continent, including 100 clean energy projects, and increase cultural exchanges and medical assistance.

Chinese firms have been pouring investments into oil and other raw materials in Africa to fuel the Asian country's booming economy.

Over the past five years, Chinese direct investment in Africa has soared, from 491 million dollars in 2003 to 7.8 billion dollars in 2008, according to official Chinese figures.

Total trade between China and Africa surpassed 100 billion dollars in 2008 -- a tenfold increase in eight years.

Booming trade ties have been accompanied by China also building schools, hospitals and clinics to fight malaria and offering scholarships for Africans to study in China.

But Beijing's growing economic role in the poverty-ridden continent has also been met with some scepticism and criticism.

China has been accused of throwing a lifeline to pariah regimes accused of human rights violations, such as the government of Sudan's President Omar al-Beshir, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

Beshir, who is at the summit, thanked China in a speech for its diplomatic role in Sudan, where a six-year conflict in the country's western Darfur region has killed 300,000 people, according to the United Nations.

"We express our deep appreciation for China's efforts in backing the comprehensive peace agreement (between south and north) in Sudan and its peace efforts in Darfur," he said.

"We thank China particularly for backing efforts by our countries to achieve peace and stability in Africa's zones of conflict," Beshir added.

On March 4 the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Beshir, accusing him of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

Chinese officials say they follow a policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of African countries, and deny that Chinese investments and loans come with strings attached.

"Africa is fully capable of solving its own problems, in an African way," Wen said in his speech.

"China has never attached any political strings... to assistance to Africa," he said, adding that trade is based on "win-win programmes... and transparency."

Some observers have criticised China for relying on its own expertise and labour in Africa, rather than training Africans.

Wen said China intended to improve scientific and technological cooperation with African states and give technical training to African students.

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