China-Africa summit yields promise of new aid

China’s foreign minister stressed his country’s commitment to Africa’s development Monday at the end of a China-Africa summit in which Beijing pledged $10 billion in loans and countered criticism it was plundering the continent’s resources.

Following on Beijing’s promise of new loans and debt forgiveness, Chinese and African officials capped the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation with a document outlining joint priorities in boosting relations and a roadmap for implementing the plan. China also said it would help Africa deal with climate change challenges such as desertification.

The new initiatives, announced Sunday by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and to be implemented over the next three years, build on a previous three-year plan from 2006 in which Beijing pledged $5 billion in loans. They “are a response to requests by the African people to improve their livelihood,” Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told reporters Monday. “The two agreements represent … a comprehensive plan for a new stage of Chinese-African cooperation.”

The summit brought leaders from some of the world’s poorest and most-conflict plagued nations together with a country whose political and economic might has grown exponentially over the years. That growth has earned China both respect and — as evidenced in its officials’ defensive stance in the summit — sharp criticism from some in the West who accuse it of practicing a form of neocolonialism.

“The Chinese government provides selfless and unconditional aid to Africa,” Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming said. “Chinese companies … abide by all local laws and regulations,” pay taxes and follow international laws. As part of the new plan, China has pledged to build 100 new energy projects — environmentally friendly ventures — in recognition of the growing problems Africa faces with climate change. It will also institute a zero-tariff policy on 95 percent of goods from the poorest of the African nations and open more Chinese markets to those products.

The declaration approved Monday highlights the need for deepening economic and trade ties while also raising concerns about the impact of the global financial crisis, particularly on developing countries. It says the international community, especially developed nations, needs to focus on efforts to mitigate the crisis’ impact on the developing world, particularly African nations. The eight new measures outlined by the Chinese premier are part of “a development policy of putting people first,” Chen said.

Critics contend Beijing is indiscriminately pumping money into the continent without regard to individual countries’ human rights records and without offering terms that ensure Africans walk away with a lasting benefit from the investments. Critics say that from oil exploration in Sudan to mining ventures in Guinea, the investments are merely tools for stripping the resource-rich continent of its sources of wealth. In return, Beijing is sending back inexpensive finished Chinese goods, they say.

Some African representatives took issue with the allegations, saying they are responsible for charting their development course. “We set our own priorities,” Sam Kutesa, Uganda’s foreign affairs minister, told The Associated Press. Africans are using China’s resources “to help us exploit ours,” he said.

Martyn Davies, a South African expert on Africa-China economic relations, said the summit was successful for Africa because the loan package pledged uses commodities China needs as collateral. “The ball is in Africa’s court,” said Davies of the Asia Business Center of the University of Pretoria. “We (Africa) need to make the environment conducive for large investments.”

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