Beijing — Chinese President Xi Jinping says Chinese funds are not for "vanity projects" in Africa but are to build infrastructure that can remove bottlenecks in the continent’s development.

Speaking at a business forum ahead of the start of a once-every-three-years China Africa summit, Xi said: "Resources for our co-operation are not to be spent on any vanity projects, but in places where they count the most.… Inadequate infrastructure is believed to be the biggest bottleneck to Africa’s development."

Chinese officials say the 2018 summit will strengthen Africa’s role in Xi’s Belt and Road initiative to link China by sea and land through an infrastructure network modelled on the old Silk Road with southeast and central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

Xi said that the plan, for which Beijing has pledged $126bn, would help provide more resources and facilities for Africa, and would expand shared markets.

Chinese businesses in Africa should take up social responsibilities, do more to train local staff and pay attention to environmental issues, Xi said.

"I hope you will build a valued corporate reputation, establish Chinese investment brands and cultivate your investment image," he said.

Xi was scheduled to address the opening of the summit later in the day.

Foreign minister Lindiwe Sisulu said the forum must strengthen efforts to face emerging global challenges such as "the rising nationalistic ethos, populism, unilateralism, protectionism and the emergence of global trade wars".

From 2000 to 2016, China loaned about $125bn to the continent, data from the China-Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at Washington’s Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies shows.

It is the most significant contributor to high debt risks in three African countries — Congo Republic, Djibouti and Zambia — the research centre said last week.

In most other nations, traditional donors, multilateral agencies and private creditors held significantly higher portions of debt, it said. The past decade has seen a boom in African Eurobond issuance.

China has denied engaging in "debt trap" diplomacy, but Xi is likely to use the gathering of African leaders to offer a new round of financing, following a pledge of $60bn at the last summit three years ago in SA.

Ethiopia and Zambia, heavy borrowers from China, have expressed desire to restructure that debt, while bankers believe Angola and Congo Republic have already done so, although details are sparse.

But even countries heavily indebted to China say Beijing offers far better terms than western banks, and that European nations and the US fail to match its generosity.

Every African country is represented at the business forum apart from eSwatini, self-ruled Taiwan’s last ally on the continent, which has so far rejected China’s overtures to ditch Taipei and recognise Beijing.

African presidents in attendance include Cyril Ramaphosa, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Zambia’s Edgar Lungu and Gabon’s Ali Bongo.

Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir will also be there.

Bashir is wanted by The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide related to the war in Darfur. He denies the charges.

Nevertheless, Bashir received a warm greeting from Xi, who told him he "welcomes Sudan’s participation in the Belt and Road" and "opposes foreign interference in Sudan’s internal affairs", the official Xinhua news service reported on Sunday.

Bashir’s attendance of an AU summit in SA in June 2015 caused a furore over SA’s failure to arrest him.

SA is a signatory to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, but after the Bashir incident, the government said it would pull SA out of the agreement. The DA has said it will fight a proposed bill to do this.

Reuters and AFP