JOHANNESBURG • Chinese President Xi Jinping told African leaders his country would pump US$60 billion (S$84.6 billion) into development projects, cancel some debt and boost agriculture under a three-year plan that will extend Beijing's influence in the continent.
Mr Xi also said China would not interfere in African countries' internal affairs, a stance that drew strong applause from leaders such as Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, who have faced strong Western criticism of their human rights record.
But China too has irked some Africans in the past for using Chinese firms and labour to build state-funded roads and railways in Africa while buying up commodities and leaving little for local economies - an image Mr Xi is keen to change during a two-day conference in South Africa that ends on Saturday.
"To ensure the successful implementation of these 10 cooperation plans, China has decided to provide a total of US$60 billion of funding support," Mr Xi told the summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation yesterday.
"These plans (are) aimed at addressing three issues holding back Africa's development, namely inadequate infrastructure, lack of professional and skilled personnel, and funding shortages," said Mr Xi, who this week also visited Zimbabwe.
The funding includes US$5 billion of interest-free loans and US$35 billion in preferential financing, export credit lines and concessional loans, he added.
South African President Jacob Zuma, who co-chaired the summit with Mr Xi, said African countries needed Chinese help to process their abundant natural resources, which he said had made the continent vulnerable to exploitation in the past. "That way, what is buried in the belly of the soil will translate into benefit for the bellies of our citizens," Mr Zuma said.
China is Africa's largest trading partner and the trade volume between them amounted to US$220 billion last year, according to China state news agency Xinhua.
Chinese influence is broadly seen by Africans as a healthy counterbalance to the West, though Western governments accuse China of turning a blind eye to conflicts and rights abuses.
Sticking to the Chinese tradition of non-interference in local politics, Mr Xi said yesterday: "China strongly believes Africa belongs to the African people, and African problems should be handled by the African people."
Mr Mugabe, whose government signed 10 economic accords with China this week, including on expanding Zimbabwe's largest thermal power plant, praised Beijing's role in Africa, contrasting it favourably with that of Western nations.
"Here is a man (Xi) representing a country once called poor. A country which never was our coloniser... He is doing to us what we expected those who colonised us yesterday to do," said Mr Mugabe, who is also chairman of the African Union, to loud applause by the delegates.
In his speech, Mr Xi said China would cancel existing debts with zero interest loans for least-developed countries that mature by the end of this year.
He also said China would negotiate free-trade agreements to promote imports from Africa.
He also vowed greater cooperation with African countries in the fight against violent extremism and said its troops would take part in UN peacekeeping forces on the continent. An attack last month by Islamist militants in Mali killed 19 people, including three Chinese citizens.