South African President Jacob Zuma (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping leave for a meeting after an arrival ceremony for Xi at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on December 2, 2015. Picture: Karel Prinsloo

#Focac: Pretoria - Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over the signing of agreements and loan deals with South Africa worth R94 billion ($6.5 billion), mainly to build infrastructure in the continent's most industrialised nation.

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma hailed relations between the two nations as at their “best ever” after the two leaders held talks focused on boosting investment and addressing a trade imbalance that favours China.

“China and South Africa relations are at a new historical level. We want to build it into a model for relationships between China and other emerging economies,” Xi said at a media conference following the talks.

China has made a string of cheap loans in the past few years to countries in Africa, a continent which supplies oil and raw materials such as copper and uranium to the world's most populous country and its second-largest economy.

Chinese influence is broadly seen by Africans as a healthy counterbalance to the West, though Western governments accuse China of turning a blind eye to conflicts and rights abuses as they pursue trade and aid policies there.

Xi, who began his tour of Africa in Zimbabwe on Tuesday where he pledged loans to revamp the ailing economy, will also co-chair a two-day Forum on China-Africa Co-operation which begins in Johannesburg on Friday.

Several African heads of state are expected to attend the summit, with discussions centring on how much China will extend in new loans as its own economic growth slows, while African nations may push for debt moratoriums and technology transfers.

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari will ask Xi to fund rail and power projects urgently needed to diversify an economy hit hard by a plunge in oil prices, a spokesman said.

As part of the 26 deals signed on Wednesday, China will lend South Africa's cash-strapped power utility $500 million.

The two countries also signed a deal to improve cooperation in nuclear power, but gave no details.

South Africa is in the throes of a chronic electricity crisis that is increasing costs for industry and discouraging investment. Part of its response is to build new nuclear plants that experts say may cost as much as $100 billion.

China will also help to build a car manufacturing plant on South Africa's coast which should begin exporting vehicles to other African countries by the end of 2017.

South African Investec, a Johannesburg-based investment bank and asset management firm, agreed to work with China Export-Import Bank to enhance export finance, project finance, and the internationalisation of China's renminbi currency and its use as a settlement currency in trade.

China's Credit Insurance Corporation signed a deal to provide state-owned logistics firm Transnet with $2.5 billion in loans to pay for contracts and equipment with Chinese companies.

The two nations also agreed to waive visa requirements for diplomatic and government passport holders.

Reuters