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UN Advisor Says China Can Help Africa Escape Poverty

A top U.N. advisor has said China's development aid and expertise can help African nations escape from poverty. But some participants at a U.N.-sponsored seminar in Beijing say problems remain on both sides of the relationship.

A special U.N. advisor says China's experience in lifting millions out of poverty with advanced farming techniques should be applied to African nations.

Jeffrey Sachs was speaking at a forum in Beijing sponsored by the United Nations and the China-Africa Business Council.

Sachs is an advisor to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the U.N.'s Millennium Project, which aims to reduce global poverty. He says China's use of high-yield seeds and adequate irrigation and fertilizer could triple agricultural production in Africa.

Sachs says China's pragmatic approach of not mixing politics and aid has also shown results.

"Frankly speaking, China gives fewer lectures than Europe and the United States and more practical help much of the time," he said. "The roads get built, the bridges get built, the health care gets expanded, and there are not a lot of painful lectures attached to it."

Sachs says Western countries need to stop using corruption and poor governance as an excuse to pull back aid and should focus on relieving poverty.

"There is a huge security gain by making the long-term investment in helping the poorest of the poor out of the poverty trap," added Sachs. "And, you cannot do that if you are treating symptoms of political instability rather than underlying conditions of agriculture, health, infrastructure, education and so on."

But not everyone attending the seminar agreed China's role in Africa was completely positive.

Critics say Chinese arms sales have actually fueled conflicts in African nations.

And human-rights organizations have criticized China for ignoring human-rights abuses and international labor standards, while seeking African energy and materials to fuel its growing economy.

Nigerian ambassador to China, Jonathan Coker, says China needs to employ more local workers on its African projects.

"What China should know now is that you cannot on your own continue to work with yourselves," he said. "You must engage the nationalities to do the business with you. And, that is where the conflict is."

Other participants stressed that African countries need to change if they were to use investment and aid more effectively.

"The issue is not what we have been given," said Afare Apeadu Donkor, the Ghanaian ambassador to China. "The issue is what do we do to make a good margin of all the help we are getting in Africa."

China's trade with Africa grew from only $2 billion in 1999 to nearly $40 billion last year.