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China's Premier Pledges $10 billion in Loans to Africa

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Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has announced Beijing will loan African nations $10-billion at favorable rates during the next three years. Mr. Wen made the pledge at a China/Africa investment conference underway in Egypt.

The promise of the concessional loans further China's investment in the continent, aimed at improving such infrastructure as roads and energy production as well as developing agriculture and undertaking health and education initiatives.

Premier Wen also said Beijing would cancel debts owed it by some of the continent's poorest nations. And in a further gesture of goodwill, the Chinese leader promised help in building 100 clean energy projects, part of what China says is its commitment to fight global warming.

Trade has been growing by 30 percent annually for much of this decade, and now tops $100-billion a year. The new loans are double what China pledged at the first Forum on China Africa Cooperation three years ago in Beijing.

African Union chief Jean Ping told those at the conference that the money is coming at an opportune time, because African growth was "totally compromised" by the global financial crisis.

Ping said one of the lessons learned is that the world is paying for "the irresponsible and lax behavior" of large financial companies whose philosophy was to make short-term profits.

Critics of China's interest in Africa accuse Beijing of much the same thing. China's no-strings-attached lending has led to charges that it will do anything to get at the continent's rich resources, including propping up governments accused of repressing its citizens, in particular Sudan and Zimbabwe.

And the lack of any good governance oversight has meant that inevitably some of the money has gone to bribery, kickbacks and corruption.

Premier Wen addressed the problem at the conference, saying Africa is capable of solving its own problems, using African ways.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe told the conference he appreciates China's hands off approach and wants others to follow its example.

"We also wish to reiterate the calls by the African Union, SADC (the Southern Africa Development Community), COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa), the non-aligned movement and China to those who have imposed illegal sanctions against Zimbabwe, to leave them without further delay," Mr. Mugabe said. "These sanctions have caused tremendous hardships to Zimbabwe and her people."

The United States and others have placed economic and other sanctions on the Mugabe government, whose land appropriation policies coincided with a massive decline in the economy.

Leaders of nearly 50 African countries are attending the two-day conference, being held in the Egyptian resort Sharm el Sheikh.