Wolfowitz told Les Echos, the Paris-based sister newspaper of Financial Times, on Tuesday that large Chinese banks ignored the Equator Principles, a voluntary code of conduct under which projects financed by private banks meet social and environmental standards.

He said big Chinese banks "do not respect" the principles. The World Bank has held "very direct" talks with the Chinese about problems it has identified.

   

"I hope in time our viewpoints will converge," Wolfowitz said.

 

China has become a major business presence in Africa, an important source of natural resources - including oil - which Beijing needs to fuel its booming economy.

 

Liu Jianchao, China's foreign ministry spokesman, said that China's loans to African countries were helping to improve ordinary people's lives.

 

Liu said: "China cannot accept this accusation. China has adopted the policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries and China does not want to impose one's value system on others.

 

"China has maintained good cooperation... on the basis of equality and mutual benefits with a view to promote social and economic development as well as the improvement of living standards of African people."

 

New debts

   

Wolfowitz said he was also concerned about lending by India and Venezuela to poor countries that had benefited from debt relief.

   

"There is a real risk of seeing countries which have benefited from debt relief become heavily indebted once more," he said.

   

The World Bank will try to control the problem by limiting the amount of long-term debt a country can take on. But he said the issue depended on how the money was used.

   

"If it's a matter of buying luxury cars for ministers, it is bad borrowing," said Wolfowitz.

   

"On the other hand, good borrowing delivers big benefits, lifts national income and makes it easier to repay the national debt in the future. It's important to have all the detail on the table to know what borrowers and lenders are really doing."