China hosts Latin American bloc in Beijing, pledges to double two-way trade to $500 billion

Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed burgeoning ties Thursday with Latin America, pledging to use his country's economic clout to support billions of dollars in regional projects and almost double two-way trade to $500 billion over the next 10 years.

Xi was addressing a two-day meeting for officials from left-leaning nations in the Western Hemisphere a day after meeting in Beijing with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who said he received pledges of $20 billion in Chinese investment into his country's beleaguered economy.

Xi emphasized the potential for future growth in ties between China and the grouping of more than 30 nations known as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which together account for 1/8th of the global economy. The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other leftist leaders pushed the bloc as an alternative to U.S.-led regional organizations.

"I am sure that this meeting will yield rich results, send to the world a strong message of our commitment to deepening cooperation for common development," Xi said. "We are bound together by shared dreams and common pursuits."

Xi emphasized China's commitment to its independent foreign policy and maintaining an equal partnership with the region, comments likely to appeal to many in the region who resent what they see as unfair dominance by the United States.

Trade between China and the region has grown from $10 billion in 2000 to $257 billion in 2013, driven largely by Chinese demand for commodities such as crude oil and soybeans. While slowing growth in China will soften demand for such products, Xi said Latin America and the Caribbean would benefit heavily from forecasts of $10 trillion in Chinese imports over the next five years.

Along with the targeted increase in two-way trade, Xi said he wanted to increase direct investment in the region to $250 billion over the next five years. China last July extended a $20 billion loan to the region for infrastructure development, another $10 billion in preferential loans, a $5 billion fund for cooperation between the sides and $50 million for agricultural development.