Disputes over China’s investment projects in Africa were just “growing pains” in a burgeoning relationship that saw their trade top $200 billion (R2.1 trillion) last year, Premier Li Keqiang said yesterday ahead of a week-long tour of the continent.

Li, speaking before starting a trip to Ethiopia, Nigeria, Angola and Kenya, said Chinese companies operating in Africa needed to abide by local laws and regulations, and take responsibility for protecting the interests of local communities.

He said the Chinese government was willing to sit down with African countries to resolve any issues that arose between the two sides, but said these were “isolated” cases in a relationship based on equality and mutual benefit.

“I wish to assure our African friends in all seriousness that China will never pursue a colonialist path like some countries did, or allow colonialism, which belongs to the past, to reappear in Africa,” official news agency Xinhua quoted him as saying.

Chinese enterprises have spent heavily on infrastructure, mining and energy projects in Africa as the country seeks to expand its access to supplies of vital commodities such as oil and copper.

But in some cases, Chinese firms have been accused of treating local staff unfairly. Oil workers at two China-invested projects in Chad and Niger went on strike in March to protest against unequal pay.

In 2009, China overtook the US as Africa’s biggest trading partner, and Xinhua said more than 2 500 Chinese companies operated on the continent.

Li’s visit began yesterday and runs until Sunday. – Reuters