SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt – China's premier on Sunday pledged $10 billion in low interest loans to African nations over the next three years and said Beijing would cancel the government debts of some of the poorest of those countries, as the Asian powerhouse looked to deflect criticism that its investments in the continent were motivated purely by greed.
At a two-day China-Africa summit that began on Sunday, Wen Jiabao also said China would build 100 new clean energy projects for Africa over the same period as part of an effort to help the continent deal with climate change issues.
"We will help Africa build up financing capacity," Wen said at the start of the two-day Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summit. "We will provide $10 billion in concessional loans to African countries."
Concessional loans are ones that offer generous terms — better than market rates — to poorer countries.
China's inroads into Africa have come at a price for Beijing. The country has been accused by some in the West of ignoring Africa's needs and the dismal rights records of some of its countries while looking only to sate its hunger for the fuel it needs to drive its bustling economy.
China has, for example, been a key force in developing Sudan's vital oil sector even as the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum is accused of atrocities in the Darfur region. More recently, a $7 billion mining deal was signed between a little known Chinese company and Guinea's government — an agreement that came weeks after soldiers there opened fire on demonstrators and raped women in the streets.
But Wen said while many in the world have only now begun to take note of China's role in Africa, it was a relationship that dates back five decades and included helping the countries throw off the yoke of colonialism.
"The Chinese people cherish sincere friendship toward the African people, and China's support to Africa's development is concrete and real," Wen said at a forum that attracted leaders such as Sudan's Omar el-Bashir and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe — heads of state out-of-favor with the West.
"Whatever change that may take place in the world, our friendship with African people will not change," Wen said. "Our commitment to deepening mutually beneficial cooperation ... will not change, and our policy of supporting Africa's economic and social development will not change."
Wen said that as part of its support for Africa and growing trade ties with China, Beijing would take eight new measures over the next three years, including helping Africa build up its financing capacity.
Along with the loans — double the amount pledged two years earlier at a similar summit in Beijing — Wen also said that for the most heavily indebted and least developed African nations, China would cancel their debts associated with interest free government loans set to mature at the end of this year.
The caveat was that the debt forgiveness was restricted to those nations that have diplomatic relations with China — a condition likely to rankle critics who argue that China has made its support conditional on countries backing it fully, including by renouncing ties with Taiwan. The overwhelming majority of African nations have diplomatic ties with China.
Wen said that China would also build energy projects that cover solar power, biogas and small hydro plants. Other initiatives under the plan include boosting training of African professional, new schools, and phasing in zero tariff treatment for 95 percent of the products from the least developed countries that have relations with Beijing.
The steps are the latest in a growing trade relationship between China and Africa — a push that has seen trade grow tenfold in the past eight years to reach almost $107 billion by the end of 2008.
The latest pledge for loans builds on $5 billion that China had pledged to the continent during the 2006 Sina-African summit. That gathering in Beijing was widely seen as a catalyst fueling growth in Africa, a continent ravaged by some of the world's highest poverty rates, a battle against the AIDS epidemic and chronic internal conflicts.
In a sign that China was willing to invest more than cash into Africa, Wen said that China was also prepared to take on a role in the "settlement of issues of peace and security."
Wen, joined by a host of African leaders, stressed China's involvement in Africa had allowed the continent to get on the road to growth and to begin approaching United Nations outlined development goals.
Many of the participants agreed Sunday that china had fulfilled its pledges — comments that appeared to be a jab at Western promises that have not been matched by funding.
Wen called on the international community to tackle Africa's challenges with "a greater sense of urgency," and said that China would "always speak up for Africa" at international forums.
The comments echoed those by African leaders who argued that the continent, in particular, and developing nations, in general, needed a greater say in key international institutions like the Group of Eight and the Group of 20 industrialized nations.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the summit's chair, said developed nations had a clear responsibility in helping developing countries, particularly in the wake of a global financial meltdown that spilled over from the Western nations where it was born.