A customer waits for his tea on the balcony of Ostang Boi Teahouse in Kashgar, a city which had an important position on the ancient Silk Road, through which merchants traded tea and other goods between China, Middle East and Europe. File picture: Zhao Ge/Xinhua

Beijing - Africa has an important role to play in China’s much-touted One Belt and One Road Initiative, an ambitious plan to revive the old maritime Silk Road, which wields plenty of financial muscle and promises to boost member-countries's growth and economies.

This is according to deputy director of the department of African Affairs at China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bing Dai. He was speaking to journalists from 27 countries in Africa at a press conference in Beijing. The journalists are fellows of the Cape African Press Centre.

Dai said: "Africa is an important participant in the revival of this old maritime route. It's open to all African countries from Somalia, Kenya, Madagascar to South Africa."

China will host the first Summit of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) next month. The initiative is Chinese President Xi Jinping's landmark programme to invest billions of rands in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power grids across Asia, Africa and Europe.

Reuters reported that China had dedicated US$40 billion to a Silk Road Fund and the idea was the driving force behind the establishment of the US$50 billion China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. China has so far given few details about who will attend the summit. But Dai said many African countries had been invited to the event, to be held in Beijing.

China wanted to continue to strengthen it's cooperation with African as it formed part of its long-term strategy, and continue to build on the points put forward by President Xi Jinping during his visit to Tanzania, South Africa, the Republic of Congo four years ago.

This included, China and Africa, treating each other as equals. "China sincerely supports the development of Africa, and will not interfere in domestic affairs. We will not impose our will on others."

He said they sought practical and efficient results. The two countries should learn from each other. China had learnt from their mistakes in Africa too. This included projects hampered by skills shortage, insufficient power supply, an infrastructure backlog and political insecurity.

He said they were aware of instances where China and Africa's relationship had been tarnished because certain Chinese companies had broken the law or caused environmental damage during various projects. "We firmly oppose despicable and illegal deeds."

Dai also dismissed criticism from the West that China's interest in Africa had the imprints of neo-colonialism. "African has the power of choice... it can decide who it wants to do business with. We will not yield to pressure from the West."

On the issue of the South African rand's junk status and the pending demand for a no-confidence motion in President Jacob Zuma's, Dai said China sincerely wished South Africa political stability. They were confidant the ruling party would be able to steer the country through these turbulent times. 

"The ANC has experience and will find a solution."

He also reaffirmed the Forum on China African Cooperation's key areas of cooperation, including industrialisation, agricultural modernisation, infrastructure, financial services, green development, trade and investment facilitation, poverty reduction, public health, people-to-people exchanges, peace and security.

These ten areas were consistent with the priorities and goals of African Unions Agenda 2063.

Weekend Argus