Chinese foreign minister hails Africa as 'golden ground'

WINDHOEK - Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Thursday hailed Africa as a "golden ground" for foreign investment, and vowed to work with Chinese firms to ensure they comply with local labour laws.

"Africa is a fertile place for foreign investors and it is a golden ground for Africa to attract foreign investors, especially for infrastructure which is the blood and muscle of a country," Yang said during a visit to Namibia.

Yang spoke after meeting with his Namibian counterpart Utoni Nujoma in Windhoek, on the last leg of an African tour that also took him to Niger and Ivory Coast.

China has aggressively moved into African markets, tapping into natural resources to fuel its own economy but also taking a major role in building roads, bridges and other infrastructure across the continent.

The arrival of Chinese companies and workers has sometimes stirred conflict with locals, with Namibians complaining that some Chinese firms fail to respect the minimum wage and other labour laws.

"I am not saying every Chinese company here behaves in a perfect way. If not, I hope Namibia tells us and we do our best to solve it," Yang told reporters. "We told our companies to adhere to laws here."

After their 90-minute talks, the two ministers signed a technical cooperation agreement that included a 20-million-renminbi ($3.2-million, 2.5-million-euro) loan for projects that Namibia can decide upon later.

Yang started his five-day African tour on Monday to visit Niger and Ivory Coast before arriving in Namibia late Wednesday. It is his first visit to Namibia.

Last month China and Namibia signed a deal on animal health, which will allow Namibia to export fish and beef to China later this year, and Chinese firms have also sought greater stakes in uranium mining here.

China has in recent years expanded its aid to Namibia, building roads, schools and hospitals in remote areas, although the costs are not made public.

According to latest figures from the Business Journal of the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 27 Chinese state companies are active in Namibia in construction, mining, engineering, information technology and financial services.

According to a World Bank report last month, about 35,000 Chinese nationals live in Namibia. The country has a population of about two million.