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China Pledges $60 Billion to Aid Africa's Development

China pledged $60 billion in development assistance to Africa on Friday, promising to help nations industrialize and elevate its relationship with the continent beyond one centered on the extraction of raw materials.

Speaking before most of the continent's leaders at a China-Africa summit meeting here, President Xi Jinping tripled the amount pledged at the last meeting three years ago, reassuring the audience of China's commitment amid an economic downturn whose effects have reverberated across Africa this year.

Against longstanding accusations that China benefits from a lopsided relationship with Africa, contentions that have recently gained traction as China's trade deficits with many African nations have widened, Mr. Xi said that "China has the strong political commitment to supporting Africa in achieving development and prosperity."

China, he said, "now has the technology, equipment, professional and skilled personnel and capital needed to help Africa realize sustainable self-development." Mr. Xi pledged many of these things as part of the $60 billion package, which includes $5 billion in grants and interest-free loans and $35 billion in loans and export credits.

Mr. Xi and leaders from across Africa, including more than 40 heads of state, gathered here for the latest Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, a diplomatic summit meeting that has been held every three years since 2000.

Trade between China and Africa has soared since the first event 15 years ago, as China displaced the United States as Africa's most important trading partner six years ago.

But Mr. Xi's visit comes as high growth and optimism on the continent are waning. Many previously rapidly growing economies are now slumping because of China's economic slowdown, its diminished appetite for Africa's raw materials and plunging prices on everything from oil to copper and iron ore. Nigeria's economy, the continent's biggest, is growing at its slowest pace this century, and South Africa, the second largest, nearly slipped into a recession recently.

This forum's slogan — "Africa-China Progressing Together: Win-Win Cooperation for Common Development" — seemed designed to deflect growing criticism that the benefits of the relationship have largely been in China's favor.

But Mr. Xi found a receptive audience here, as political leaders and government officials from across the continent described his plans by using the expression "win-win."

China's interests in Africa are broadening — Beijing announced last month that it would open its first overseas military outpost in Djibouti in East Africa — but it remains focused on economic matters.

In the weeks preceding the summit meeting, the news media here focused on Africa's economic expectations of China. By contrast, much of the attention paid to President Obama's visit to Africa in July centered on his promotion of gay rights, with many Africans warning him against broaching the topic.

Mr. Xi tapped a few times into Africa's deep-seated resentment of the West's policies toward the continent, especially what many perceive as its meddling in domestic matters and its attempts to impose its values.

"China strongly believes that Africa belongs to the African people and that African affairs should be decided by the African people," Mr. Xi said.

Underscoring Beijing's longstanding policy of noninterference in Africa's domestic affairs — which, both African and Western critics say, includes coddling the continent's authoritarian rulers — Mr. Xi paid a two-day visit before this summit meeting to Zimbabwe and President Robert Mugabe, an adversary of the West.

Anti-imperialist sentiments suffused the auditorium here when Mr. Mugabe, the current chairman of the African Union, praised Mr. Xi.

"He is doing to us what we expected those who colonized us yesterday to do," Mr. Mugabe said to loud applause.

Other delegates to the summit meeting later expressed similar sentiments, though in more temperate terms.

"The fundamental difference is that the two partners consider themselves equal, even though, in reality, that may not be the case," said Biéké Benjamin, a diplomat from Ivory Coast. "But it's a basic principle. There isn't one partner dictating to the other, whereas Western nations come in saying, 'You go left, you go right.'"

Still, experts say that Beijing will have to skillfully adapt to a changing relationship with Africa. China's insatiable demand for raw materials, which has fueled much of the rapid growth in Africa, has cooled as the Chinese try to steer their own economy away from construction and exports to consumption and services.

As the price of commodities has also plummeted, the economies of former models of solid growth, like Zambia, Angola and Mozambique, have tumbled.

Zhong Jianhua, China's special representative on African affairs, said the summit meeting signaled the start of a new stage in relations — one marked by a "new normal" of slower growth in China.

"Both sides need to review and look back to see what we have done, and also see what we can do more," Mr. Zhong said.

Expectations from African nations are high.

President José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola had met Mr. Xi the night before to emphasize the need to broaden China's involvement in Africa's economy beyond raw materials, said Samuel Andrade da Cunha, director of Asia and Oceania in Angola's Foreign Affairs Ministry.

"We would like technology and everything to be transferred from China to Angola," Mr. da Cunha said. "We would like to make products in Angola by building factories or developing agriculture in Angola, which we can then export to other countries."

[Source: By Norimitsu Onishi, The New York Times, Johannesburg, 04Dec15]

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