Wen Jiabao, China’s premier, on Wednesday called on developed nations to deliver on promises of aid and market access for Africa and pledged Chinese help in speeding economic and social development on the continent.

Mr Wen used the opening of the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) annual meeting in Shanghai to issue a gentle rebuke to those who have criticised China’s expanding ties with Africa but have often fallen short on their own commitments.

“We call on the international community, and the developed countries in particular, to deliver on pledged aid to Africa, to cancel debt and to enhance trade,” said Mr Wen.

Ultimately, Africa needed to rely on itself to sustain development, he said, but added: “International support and assistance is still indispensable.”

By hosting the bank’s annual meeting in Shanghai, only the second time it has taken place outside Africa, China has created a potent symbol of its strengthening ties with the continent.

Trade with the continent has risen more than tenfold in a decade to $55bn (€41bn, £27.7bn)). Chinese demand for energy and mineral resources to fuel its booming domestic economy has helped drive up commodity prices on world markets, and contributed to the longest period of sustained growth in Africa since the 1970s.

Providing cheaper and often faster delivery on projects than foreign rivals, Chinese construction companies have proliferated across Africa, winning more than 50 per cent of market share according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

But there are growing concerns both in Africa and further afield that in return for short-term credit some governments are tying up resources on a long-term basis in contracts that will prove disadvantageous.

It is a pattern that draws comparisons with Africa’s past relationship with European colonial powers, which exploited the continent’s natural resources but failed to encourage more labour-intensive industry.

Defending China’s intentions, Mr Wen said it had cancelled Rmb10.9bn (€1bn) of African debt and would cancel a further Rmb10bn.

The country planned to meet its commitment to double aid by 2009 and to set up a $5bn development fund for Africa, and would continue to reduce tariffs on selected African imports. “We will fully deliver on our statement and we are working with African countries to implement these measures,” he said.

Mr Wen said the Chinese government was “ready to strengthen co-operation with other countries and international institutions, including the AfDB group in a joint effort” on the continent.

That message will be noted by AfDB and other donor officials who hoped that the meeting would encourage China to adopt a more transparent and collaborative approach to Africa’s problems.

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