Beijing — Chinese President Hu Jintao on Saturday pledged to double his country's assistance to the African continent by 2009, and proposed a raft of new loans, development projects in health and agriculture, and debt cancellations.
In his speech opening the two-day China-Africa summit in the Chinese capital Beijing, Hu said China wants to be Africa's "partner".
"China and Africa share increasing common interests and have a growing mutual need," he told the 48 African heads of state and representatives.
In his 15-minute speech, Hu pledged to double China's assistance to Africa during the next three years and to increase China's involvement in direct development aid.
Top of the agenda was US $5bn in loans and credits to be provided to Africa over the next three years. Hu also announced the creation of a $5bn China-Africa development fund to encourage Chinese companies to invest in Africa and provide support to them.
China will also build a conference centre for the African Union, cancel the poorest countries' debts, give Africa preferential customs treatment, and establish trade and economic zones on the continent.
Bottom of Hu's eight-point list of offers to Africa was a pledge to train 15,000 Africans, send 100 senior agricultural experts to Africa, build 60 hospitals and malaria clinics, provide Chinese-made anti-malaria drugs, send 300 youth workers to Africa, build 100 schools, and increase scholarships for Africans.
"Building strong ties between China and Africa will not only promote development on each side, but also help cement unity and cooperation among developing countries and contribute to establishing a just and equitable new international political and international order," Hu said.
China-Africa trade has swollen from about US $10bn in 2000 to an expected $50bn this year. Oil, minerals and other natural resources, and Chinese-made weapons make up most of the trade.
China's critics say it extracts what it needs from the continent, while ignoring environmental and anti-corruption standards, and the continent's progress in improving good-governance.
African presidents shunned by the West, like Sudan's Omar al-Bashir and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, both of whom are attending the summit, have shored up strong relationships with China based on extensive reserves of natural resources in their countries.
But a South African diplomat told IRIN: "We are very excited about these offers - this means a lot for Africa. It will especially make a huge difference for the poorest countries in the region."
The Beijing summit promises to broadly echo pledges made by Hu last year to stump up loans and drop the debts of the least developed countries, provide medical assistance, and train 30,000 people from all developing countries before 2008.
China has also used the summit to negotiate several deals with African countries, Reuters reported on Saturday. The Chinese state oil and gas firm Sinopec will start preliminary explorations for oil in Liberia, and China's Sino Hydro Corporation is in negotiations to build a hydroelectric dam in electricity-short Ghana, Reuters said.
African expatriates living in Beijing said they hoped African leaders would take more than China's promises home with them.
"It's a good chance for [African leaders] to learn how China evolved this fast. They have to learn and this is a good opportunity," Projestus Kagashani, 38, from Tanzania said.
"China is going through what we hope to go through, and it did it recently, not 100 or 150 years ago," Samuel Ahadu, 43, Ethiopia, who runs AACS Corp, a trading company that exports Chinese products to Africa agreed.
For Steven Mark Mwamkpa, 20, a nightclub manager from Nigeria, lessons from China's fight against corruption are the key lessons he wants Nigerian leaders to take home.
"Corruption in China doesn't stop the wheels of development, but it does in Africa," he said.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]