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China Pledges $20 Billion in Loans to Africa, But Some Africans Are Wary

President Hu Jintao

As Hu Jintao, president of China, announced a pledge yesterday in Beijing to send $20 billions in new loans to Africa for infrastructure building and manufacturing, some observers on the African continent are growing uneasy with China’s expanding influence on the continent.

While Hu gave a speech announcing China’s benevolence at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, it is clear that what China is most interested in are the vast resources that are available on the African continent.

Hu said China will offer 18,000 government scholarships and send 1,500 medical staff to the continent, in order to play a “positive and constructive role in African affairs.”

China is already Africa’s biggest trading partner and it wants to position itself as a desirable alternative for Africa to partnerships with the U.S. and Europe by offering trade deals and loans without the strings that the Western nations usually bring to the table, involving human rights or governance reforms

“We will continue to stand firm with the African people and forever be a good friend, good partner and good brother of the African people,” 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.”

China became the continent’s biggest trading partner in 2009 and China also paid for and built the African Union’s gleaming new $200 million headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

After Hu spoke, South African President Jacob Zuma warned that the current trade relationship between the two sides couldn’t last.

China delivers debt relief, human resources development and investment, while Africa has supplied raw materials and technology transfers, Zuma said.

“This trade pattern is unsustainable in the long term,” Zuma said. “Africa’s past economic experience with Europe dictates a need to be cautious when entering into partnership with other economies.”

Adams Bodomo, the director of the African Studies Program at the University of Hong Kong, said Africans are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the one-sided nature of the relationship with China.

“I am uncomfortable that China grabs headline news: ‘We will offer U$20 billion credit-lines and loans to Africa over three years!’ and yet we hear nothing from the Africa side,” Bodomo said. “What did the African leaders bring to Beijing? Empty begging bowls which are now filled with $20 billion? This is a shame.”

China is willing to work with South Africa on balancing bilateral trade, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Later yesterday, more than 20 Chinese and African enterprises signed economic cooperation agreements worth $341 million, Xinhua said. The forum in Beijing was attended by leaders from across Africa, including Benin, Kenya, Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea.

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