Li Keqiang admits to ‘growing pains’ in China-Africa ties

On a fence mending visit to resource-rich Africa to ward off China’s image as a ‘neo colonialist’, Premier Li Keqiang on Sunday admitted that Chinese firms faced ‘growing pains’ in Africa due to labour conflicts and other problems.

He asked Chinese companies to strictly abide by local laws and regulations, hold themselves accountable for the quality of their projects and goods and to consumers, and ‘shoulder due responsibility’ for local communities and the environment.

‘As China-Africa relations grow rapidly in all areas, companies of the two sides have encountered growing pains and some new problems in their cooperation that call for proper settlement,’ Li said as he left for Ethiopia, Nigeria, Angola and Kenya from May 4 to 11.

His visit is a follow up of last year’s visit to Africa by President Xi Jinping after the new Chinese leadership took over power last year.

His visit comes amid criticisms that China’s growing economic interests in Africa turned out to be harmful to local economies and could exacerbate the foreign exploitation of resources as most of over 2500 Chinese firms focused on mostly energy and minerals.

‘I wish to assure our African friends in all seriousness that China will never pursue a colonialist path like some countries did or allow colonialism, which belonged to the past, to reappear in Africa,’ Li was quoted as saying by the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Fired by increasing exports from China, the China-Africa trade reached USD 210 billion in 2013. China has been Africa’s biggest trading partner for the last five years.

More than 2,500 Chinese companies are operating in Africa, creating over 100,000 jobs for the local communities. Last year, over 1.4 million visits by Chinese travellers generated large amount of exchange revenue for Africa, it said.

While China’s presence in Africa has grown in recent years, funnelling billions of dollars into mining, infrastructure and foreign aid funding, Beijing is battling to rid the image of an exploiter.

Last year, President Xi pledged USD 20 billion in loans between last year to 2015. In 2012, China made a grand gesture by funding the USD 200 million Addis Ababa headquarters of the African Union, the 54-nation political association seen as Africa’s equivalent of the EU.

Wary observers in Africa have said China is a ‘neo-colonialist’, and that the influx of Chinese companies, bringing their own workers, has deprived Africans of jobs, Hong Kong based South China Morning Post said in a report. Li termed such allegations false.

‘The so-called China’s neo-colonialism in Africa is a false accusation inconsistent with Chinese tradition and culture, and does not reflect the reality of friendly, equal-footed and mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Africa,’ Li said.

‘Stung by the criticism China plans to shift its bilateral focus from energy and trade deals to boosting the African people’s livelihood,’ senior officials said.

‘We are paying more attention to livelihood issues, This is what the African nations need. They believe that economic and livelihood development are equally important,’ said Zhang Xiangchen, Chinese Deputy minister of commerce.

‘Over the past years, China focused on building landmark architecture.We will still be doing so in the future, but we will also keep a closer look at issues relating to the public,’ he said.

Agreements to build schools and medical facilities will be signed during Li’s trip, Zhang said.
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