ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – The U.N. deputy secretary-general on Monday urged African leaders to "take advantage" of a massive Chinese government infrastructure project that has made the United States and others uneasy that Beijing is using it to gain political influence.
In her speech to heads of state at an African Union summit, Amina Mohammed praised China's "Belt and Road" initiative, which aims to build a new "Silk Road" of ports, railways and roads to expand trade across Asia, Africa and Europe.
China's largest-ever foreign initiative calls for global partners to invest more in Africa's infrastructure. China in 2009 surpassed the United States as Africa's top trade partner.
"This is an opportunity not just to provide alternatives to silencing the guns for our people but one that will keep our assets, both human and natural, on the continent building our tomorrow today," said Mohammed, a former Nigerian government minister.
The Japanese prime minister's special adviser, Okamura Yoshifumi, told The Associated Press he wouldn't say Mohammed's comment was appropriate, but he said he didn't want to criticize it because it is a project that will benefit Africans.
"I'd say the remark was appropriate," said the former head of the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa, Carlos Lopes, adding that Mohammed's comments may "incentivize others" to invest in the continent's infrastructure.
In May, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke at China's global forum on the "Belt and Road" project, saying it had "immense potential" in promoting connectivity across countries and regions.