Despite recent reports that a slowdown in the Chinese economy could impact its huge commitment to its trade with Africa, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang promised to quadruple investment in the continent and strengthen trade ties with African countries while on a tour of African nations this week.
On his first visit to Africa since last year, Li pledged continued support for African economic growth while addressing critics who believe China’s presence in Africa isn’t always beneficial to the nations with which it partners.
“We hope to see not just more trade with China but also stronger cooperation between the two countries in the development of infrastructure in Nigeria,” Li said at a meeting with Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday, according to Channel News Asia.
“We wish the Nigerian people even higher living standards and also greater achievement in terms of health and social progress,” he said.
Last year, trade between Nigeria and China hit $13.6 billion, according to a statement from the premier.
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Li landed in Nigeria on Tuesday night, ahead of the World Economic Forum on Africa, a high-level meeting of officials, economists and politicians that will take place in Abuja until Friday.
Nigeria is just one stop on Li’s four-country tour of Africa, which began with a pledge to double trade volumes between China and Africa to $400 billion by 2020, while quadrupling Chinese investment in the continent to $100 billion.
On Monday and Tuesday, Li met with officials in Ethiopia, where he discussed upcoming infrastructure investments at the headquarters of the African Union, a towering structure that was built by Chinese companies.
“The Chinese government proposes to establish joint-venture airlines between Chinese companies and Africa and provide civilian aircrafts to develop the regional aviation industry," Li said at a meeting with officials at the Chinese-built headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, according to the South China Morning Post. "We will also set up a high-speed railway research and develop center."
Li pointed to more sustainable growth projects and green development.
Ethiopia has long been an important investment destination for Chinese companies, even though it doesn’t have the oil reserves that some other African countries possess.
“Ethiopia has managed to grow very rapidly,” said Amadou Sy, senior fellow at Brookings’ Africa Growth Initiative, citing a large population and growing middle class.
“The country has no oil but may become an exporter of energy thanks to its bet on renewable energy,” he said, noting promising hydro and geothermal projects.
Sy said that a major Chinese investment from the Huajian Group in shoe manufacturing is set to employ more than 100,000 Ethiopians in the next 10 years.
The premier will also stop in Kenya, which has a fast-growing banking industry and a thriving information, communication and technology (ICT) sector, as does the oil-rich Angola.
As officials discuss plans for the future, China's reputation has been a major talking point. Critics say that China is taking advantage of the resource-rich continent and that its commitment to African aid and investment is simply a new kind of “colonialism.”
A 2011 International Monetary Fund study shows that almost 30 percent of China’s investment in Africa went to mining projects. Another report from experts at Johns Hopkins University shows that the majority of foreign direct investment from Chinese companies was in mining and manufacturing.
Rather than directly address those issues, the premier chose to emphasize China and Africa's mutual growth and partnership.
“Since entering the new century, China and Africa have seized the historic opportunities presented by the deepening of globalization, worked together and helped each other to achieve a win-win outcome,” Li said in an interview published Wednesday.