China and Ethiopia have signed more than a dozen agreements aimed at shoring up burgeoning ties between the world’s second-largest economy and the African continent that saw their trade top $200bn last year.
The agreements were signed on Sunday after Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang arrived in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for the first leg of his four-nation tour of Africa.
The visit is Li’s first trip to Africa since he became premier last year, and follows a trip to the continent by President Xi Jinping in March 2013, when he renewed an offer of $20bn in loans to Africa between 2013 and 2015.
Africans broadly see China, which funded the construction of the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, as a healthy counterbalance to Western influence. However, there are growing calls from policymakers and economists for more balanced trade relations.
As he embarked on his trip, Li acknowledged “growing pains” in China-Africa cooperation.
In Ethiopia, Chinese firms have invested heavily in recent years with their worth swelling well over $1bn in 2014, according to official figures.
Beijing is also a key partner in Ethiopia’s bid to expand infrastructure such as roads, railways and telecom services..
Raft of deals
Chinese ministers and company executives accompanying Li signed 16 deals with their Ethiopian counterparts, including loans and cooperation agreements for the construction of roads and industrial zones, the Reuters news agency reported.
“This right track in the relationship between us has been laid. I am sure it will lead us to stronger growth in our ties,” Li told a news conference.
China has a relationship with Africa which pre-dates its current resource-hungry economic boom.
In previous decades, China’s Communist leaders supported national liberation movements and newly independent states across the continent.
Beijing has been accused of holding back the continent’s economic development by focusing on the pursuit of raw materials rather than the creation of local jobs and markets.
Keen not to be perceived as an imperial master, Li said China was willing to sit down with African countries keen to resolve any issues that arose over investment projects.