China sincere in helping Africa - Wen

Updated: 2007-05-16 11:02

Shanghai - Premier Wen Jiabao defended China's expanding trade and investment in Africa to help countries to grow at the briskest pace in 30 years.

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"We are truly sincere in helping Africa speed up economic and social development for the benefit of the African people and its nations," Wen told the opening session of the African Development Bank's annual meeting.

The two-day gathering, attended by finance ministers and central bank governors from more than 50 countries, is the bank's first meeting in Asia, and the second time outside Africa.

Wen recalled a pledge given by President Hu Jintao at a summit with African heads of state in Beijing in November to double aid by 2009 and to set up a US$5 billion development fund.

"We will fully deliver on our statement and we are working with African countries to implement these measures," Wen said.

China had also cancelled 10.9 billion yuan (US$1.42 billion) of African debt and announced additional relief of 10 billion yuan, the premier added.

Wen also urged to explore new ways of cooperation and upgrade current cooperation to bring about mutual benefit.

Governments should provide more guidance for businesses, he said.

Wen called for better project evaluation and higher efficiency of investment and loans, urging Chinese companies to attach a priority to projects that deliver public benefits.

These included infrastructure such as roads and ports, healthcare and beefing up Africa's technical capacity.

"Africa has made real progress in rejuvenating itself. On the other hand, many arduous tasks still face Africa," he said.

To sustain Africa's development, Western countries had to make good on successive promises to step up aid and open their markets to African products.

"We call on the international community and the developed countries in particular to deliver on pledged aid to Africa, cancel debt and enhance trade," Wen said.

Themed "African and Asia: Partners in Development", the two-day meetings will focus on infrastructure development in Africa, regional integrity and poverty relief.

Around 2,000 people attended the opening ceremony, including Rwandan President Paul Kagame, President of Cape Verde Pedro Pires, and President of Madagascar Marc Ravalomanana.

Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People's Bank of China, the central bank, and Donald Kaberuka, president of African Development Bank, also attended the opening ceremony.

"Since its inception, the African Development Bank has made a lot of achievements in poverty reduction, development and African integration," Zhou said.

"I'm confident that this annual meetings will become a fresh starting point for all parties to intensify cooperation and promote development in both Asia and Africa," Zhou said.

"Africa is better poised for economic prosperity and better governance than it has been for decades," said Kaberuka, the ADB president, who forecast economic growth of Africa at above 6.5 percent in 2007.

Kaberuka called for sustained development of the African economy, which currently has "serious cause for concern" including lack of progress in part of the continent, vulnerable and low-based economy and relatively faster-growing population.

Founded in 1964, the ADB has 77 members from Africa, America, Europe and Asia. China became its member in 1985.

China to tackle trade surplus

Premier Wen Jiabao pledged that China would further reform its currency controls and take steps to resolve problems ranging from the nation's growing trade surplus to its soaring foreign exchange reserves.

China's overall economic outlook was positive, he said, and promised that Beijing would make interest rates more flexible while using all available options to control growth of its money supply and ensure economic stability.

"There are some problems. We face excessive liquidity, an imbalance in the balance of payments, and rapid accumulation of foreign exchange. But we are taking measures to deal with these issues," Wen said.

"We are fully confident and capable of resolving the problems and maintaining sustained, stable and sound growth of the financial sector," he said.

Wen reiterated Beijing's vow to let markets play a greater role in setting the yuan's value.

"We are deepening reform of the foreign exchange management system to improve the mechanism of setting the (yuan) exchange rate and give greater scope to the role of the market and introduce greater interest rate flexibility," Wen said, without giving details.

Beijing has adamantly defended its currency policies in the run-up to a meeting of top Chinese and U.S. trade officials next week in Washington.

On Tuesday, a senior Chinese finance ministry official warned that pressuring Beijing to speed up currency flexibility will "backfire."

China ended a decade-old direct link between the yuan and the U.S. dollar in July 2005, and revalued the currency by 2.1 percent. Since then, the yuan has been allowed to rise by 5.3 percent against the dollar in tightly controlled trading.

Despite criticism from the U.S. in particular, Chinese officials contend that reforms are moving as quickly as the developing economy and financial system will allow. They are gradually relaxing controls on interest rates as part of those reforms.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Commerce reported Wednesday that China's foreign direct investment rose 10 percent in January-April over a year earlier, to US$20.4 billion (euro15 billion).

China, one of 24 non-African shareholders in the African Development Bank, is hosting the bank's meeting for the first time, in a symbol of its growing economic ties with the resource-rich continent.

An estimated 700-800 Chinese companies are active in Africa, sending two-way trade soaring to US$55.5 billion last year, four times its 2000 level, according to the bank. Beijing says it wants to that figure to rise to US$100 billion by 2020.

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