ADDIS ABABA -- Chinese Premier Li Keqiang praised Africa's growing economic power on Monday and Beijing's "iron-clad" friendship with the continent, as he vowed to double trade to $400 billion by 2020.
"It is one of the fastest growing regions in the world, and a bright spot in a gloomy global economy under the impact of the international financial crisis," Li said in a keynote speech, adding that China aimed to increase direct investment to $100 billion by the end of the decade.
Africa "is an important emerging market on a global scale," he added, speaking at the Chinese-built headquarters of the African Union (AU) in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
Li, who arrived in Ethiopia on Sunday, is scheduled to also visit Nigeria, Angola and Kenya during the week-long trip.
Shrugging off criticism from those who have at times criticized China's role in Africa as exploitative, Li stressed that Beijing wanted an "equal" relationship with the continent.
"Against a backdrop of the simultaneous rise of developing countries, the world needs to heed what Africa has got to say, and Africa's role needs to be respected by all parties," Li added.
AU chairman, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, praised a "robust political interaction" between the continent and China, and said trade was "increasingly bringing our people closer to each other."
"The trade exchange between Africa and China is at a record high of more than 200 billion dollars, further consolidating China's position as Africa's largest trading partner," he said.
"Chinese foreign direct investment in Africa has also grown by leaps and bounds. Particularly we are pleased to note the steady increase of Chinese investment in the manufacturing sector, which has the potential of transforming Africa into a new manufacturing hub."
Africa's 'Huge' Potential
China's economic growth has been partially fuelled by African natural resources, including oil.
"China will take an active part in industrialization in Africa," Li added, saying Beijing would support boosted infrastructure including road and rail links.
The trip follows one Chinese President Xi Jinping made to the continent last year, shortly after taking office, a journey that underscored resource-rich Africa's importance to China, the world's second-biggest economy.
"Africa boasts vast geographic expanses, its people are hard working, and there are abundant natural resources," Li said.
"Its huge development potential, as a community of one billion people, is being unleashed," he added, noting that economic growth rates topped 5% in the past decade.
Amid a surge of poaching -- an illegal trade generating tens of millions of dollars of profit, much of it fuelled by Chinese demand for elephant ivory and rhino horn -- Li announced a 10 million dollar grant to "strengthen technical cooperation" to protect wildlife.
Li also said China would provide about eight million dollars of humanitarian aid to war-torn South Sudan -- where Chinese companies operate key oil concessions -- but did not comment on the brutal civil war.
AU commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma praised China's long ties with the continent.
"The African Union considers today an important milestone in the historic relationship between Africa and China, this strategic and unique relationship is an expression of a long, deep and enduring solidarity," she said in a speech.
"It was built in the long walk of Africa's struggle against colonialism and foreign domination, and Africa's pursuit of self-determination, freedom, justice, peace and prosperity."
-Justine Boulo, AFP
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014