UNITED NATIONS • President Xi Jinping told the United Nations that China would pledge US$2 billion (S$2.9 billion) as an initial investment for development assistance to the poorest countries, during a UN visit showcasing Beijing's growing global role.
Addressing a UN summit meeting on development on Saturday, Mr Xi said China would increase its funding to US$12 billion over the next 15 years to help the UN reach a goal of eliminating extreme poverty by 2030.
In making the pledge, China was "putting justice before interests", he said. "To solve various global challenges, including the recent refugee crisis in Europe, the fundamental solutions lie in seeking peace and realising development."
The pledge comes as China faces increasing criticism for not taking sufficient responsibility for reducing poverty. Western countries have argued that China, as the world's second-largest economy, can afford to do more.
"It reflects an acceptance of China's increasing global responsibility," said Mr Douglas Paal, vice-president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
In the past, China has met about 40 per cent of its pledged contributions. The current stress on foreign exchange and growth could mean its fulfilment rate was even less, said Mr Paal.
Mr Xi said China would grant relief of debts owed by the least developed countries, though he did not give a figure for the debt.
China has been criticised for using its development aid, particularly in Africa, for its own strategic objectives and economic needs, such as expanding access to oil and gas.
Critics have pointed out that while China spends considerable money on infrastructure in poor African countries, it does not release data on its annual foreign aid.
At a briefing for reporters on Saturday, Mr Zhang Jun, director-general for economic affairs at China's foreign ministry, said the pledge was "more political than practical".
"China is willing to do as much as possible to help developing countries, but you can't expect that with limited funds, there can be an answer to all questions," Mr Zhang said.
In his speech, Mr Xi noted that China had lifted 439 million of its own people out of poverty and had made "remarkable" progress in education and women's welfare. In an effort to show that China had been generous in the past, Mr Xi said that 600,000 Chinese aid workers had been deployed to 166 countries.
The US$2 billion pledged by Mr Xi gave a considerable boost to the UN's new Global Goals for Sustainable Development announced last Friday, but there were few details about how the funds from China or other member countries would be spent. China has not decided whether the US$2 billion would be distributed as cash or in loans, Mr Zhang said.
Mr Xi said China would also start 600 foreign assistance projects to reduce poverty by 2030. Chinese officials said those would be funded separately.
In keeping with this new tack of taking a greater interest in poverty reduction outside its own borders, China announced during the summit meeting with President Barack Obama on Friday that it would cooperate with the US Agency for International Development on the UN poverty-reduction project.
Though significant, China's aid commitment remains far below the levels of Western countries. In 2013, the United States provided more than US$30 billion, and Britain, France, Germany and Japan all gave more than US$11 billion each, according to the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE