BEIJING – Chinese President Hu Jintao on Thursday pledged African governments $20 billion in credit over the next three years and called for more China-Africa coordination in international affairs to defend against the "bullying" of richer powers.
South African President Jacob Zuma also took take a swipe at European trade partners who he said tended to engage Africa for their sole benefit. But Zuma said Africa must be cautious and avoid allowing that sort of pattern to govern its relationship with China.
Hu made the lending pledge during the opening ceremony of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing. The credit line is double the amount offered in 2009 at the last forum held in Egypt.
Hu promised more Chinese help for African countries in building agricultural technology centers, training medical and other personnel, and digging wells to expand access to clean water. China will encourage investment and assistance in infrastructure that facilitates trade within Africa, he said.
China has emerged as Africa's main trading partner and a major source of investment for infrastructure, pouring billions of dollars into roads and developing the energy sector across the continent.
Trade between the two sides hit a record $166 billion last year, a three-fold increase since 2006.
But China's presence in Africa has also sparked concerns about labor abuses and corruption. Some observers see Chinese investment in Africa as an unequal partnership between an emerging economic giant and the world's poorest continent and accuse Beijing of offering no-strings-attached investment for repressive regimes.
Hu, in his remarks, put a positive spin on that hands-off approach saying China would "give genuine support to African countries' independent choice of development path and genuinely help African countries strengthen capacity for self-development."
He pledged China would "forever be a good friend, good partner and good brother of the African people."
Zuma, speaking just after Hu and before dignitaries including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, took a more cautious tone, warning that African nations must avoid repeating the mistakes of their colonial past.
Zuma said China has provided Africa human resource development, debt relief and investment, while Africa in return has given China "a supply of raw materials, other products, and technology transfer." He called this trade pattern "unsustainable in the long term."
"Africa's past economic experience with Europe dictates a need to be cautious when entering into partnerships with other economies," Zuma said.
"We certainly are convinced that China's intention is different to that of Europe, which to date continues to tend to influence African countries for their sole benefit."
China has tried hard to avoid being seen as neocolonial power in Africa, stressing its own status as a still-developing country. In his remarks Thursday, Hu again underscored this point and said China and Africa, as developing powers, should align themselves more closely in global forums such as the United Nations.
"China and Africa should increase coordination and cooperation in international affairs," Hu said. "We should oppose the practices of the big bullying the small, the strong domineering over the weak and the rich oppressing the poor."