China pledges $60 bn to Africa, waives debt for certain countries (Lead)

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Beijing : China on Monday pledged $60 billion of financial assistance to Africa and announced it would waive the debt for certain countries in the continent amid the mounting criticism and suspicion about Beijing's "debt diplomacy".

The announcement was made by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the triennial China-Africa summit that kicked off in the capital on Monday.

During the last summit in Johannesburg in 2015, China had announced the monetary assistance of a similar amount which, Xi said, was more or less implemented.

"China will extend $60 billion financing to Africa in the form of government assistance as well as investment, financing by financial institutions and companies," Xi said in his keynote address at the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.

"In addition, for Africa's least developed countries, heavily-indebted poor countries, landlocked developed countries and small island developing countries that have diplomatic relations with China, the debt incurred in the form of interest-free Chinese government loan due by 2018 will be exempted," Xi said.

China is Africa's biggest trade partner. Officials and leaders from 53 countries of the continent attended the Summit.

Of the 54 nations, only Eswatini is not attending the forum as it does not have diplomatic ties with China due to its recognition of Taiwan as a country.

Beijing has been heavily investing in the continent and building a variety of infrastructure projects, ranging from schools to hospitals and football stadia to parliament buildings.

China's deep inroads into the resource-rich continent has raised eyebrows, with some foreign think tanks accusing the Asian giant of luring poor countries by easy-to-get loans and pushing them into a debt trap.

The Chinese President sought to allay concerns over Beijing's "debt trap" and defended his Belt and Road project.

"China does not attach any political strings to its investment in Africa under the Belt and Road initiative, nor does it interfere in African countries internal affairs or impose its demands on others," Xi said.