BEIJING: President Xi Jinping told African leaders Monday that China's investments on the continent have "no political strings attached", pledging $60 billion in new development financing, even as Beijing is increasingly criticised over its debt-heavy projects abroad.
Xi offered the funding at the start of a two-day China-Africa summit that focused on his cherished Belt and Road initiative. The money -- to be spent over the next three years -- comes on top of $60 billion Beijing offered in 2015, reports AFP.The massive Belt and Road scheme is aimed at improving Chinese access to foreign markets and resources, and boosting Beijing's influence abroad.
China has poured billions in loans for roads, railways, ports and other major infrastructure projects in Asia and Africa.
But critics warn that the Chinese leader's pet project is burying some countries under massive debt.
"China's investment in Africa comes with no political strings attached," Xi told a high-level dialogue with African leaders and business representatives ahead of the summit.
"China's cooperation with Africa is clearly targeted at the major bottlenecks to development. Resources for our cooperation are not to be spent on any vanity projects, but in places where they count the most."
But Xi admitted there was a need to look at the commercial viability of projects and make sure preparations are made to lower investment risks and make cooperation "more sustainable".Belt and Road, Xi said, "is not a scheme to form an exclusive club or bloc against others."
Later, at the start of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Xi announced $60 billion in funds for eight initiatives over the next three years, in areas ranging from industrial promotion, infrastructure construction and scholarships for young Africans.
He added that Africa's least developed, heavily indebted and poor countries will be exempt from debt they have incurred in the form of interest-free Chinese loans due to mature by the end of 2018.
A study by the Center for Global Development, a US think-tank, found "serious concerns" about the sustainability of sovereign debt in eight Asian, European and African countries receiving Belt and Road funds.
But South African President Cyril Ramaphosa defended China's involvement on the continent, saying FOCAC "refutes the view that a new colonialism is taking hold in Africa as our detractors would have us believe."
During a visit to China last month, Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamed warned against "a new version of colonialism", as he cancelled a series of Chinese-backed infrastructure projects worth $22 billion.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, current chairman of the African Union, also rallied behind China's involvement in Africa.
"Africa is not a zero sum game. Our growing ties with China do not come at anyone's expense," he told the summit. At the last three-yearly gathering in Johannesburg in 2015, Xi announced $60 billion of assistance and loans for Africa.