China vows to champion African interests

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi vowed Friday that his country would "always be a champion" of African causes as he began a two-day trip to Senegal.

He hailed the strengthened relationship between Beijing and Africa after touching down in Dakar on the final leg of a four-nation tour aimed at boosting trade links between Beijing and its partners on the continent.

"The friendship between China and Africa will continue to deepen over time... in an atmosphere of pragmatism and openness," Wang told a joint news conference with his Senegalese counterpart Mankeur Ndiaye.

"In its relations with African nations, China will promote justice. China will always be a champion of African nations and defend their interests."

China has increasingly eyed Africa to fuel and fund its burgeoning economy, which last year is estimated to have grown 7.6 percent, according to a government report.

Senior ministers and presidents Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping have personally courted African nations, with deals signed in sectors from oil and gas to agriculture and infrastructure.

But Beijing is often accused of focusing on the potential profits from Africa's vast mineral wealth at the expense of human rights.

In recent years Beijing has sought to win hearts and minds with huge Chinese-funded infrastructure projects including Senegal's national theatre, built in 2011.

Other China-backed projects in the pipeline in Senegal include a national arena and a 150-kilometre (93-mile) highway connecting Dakar to the central city of Touba.

Trade between Senegal and China increased by 20 percent in the 12 months to August 2013, according to the Chinese embassy in Dakar, to $633 million.

"Despite the long distance between us, the quality of our relations allows our two countries to overcome the geography," Ndiaye said.

Wang, whose tour has also taken in Ethiopia, Djibouti and Ghana, held talks with Senegalese President Macky Sall and is due to tour Chinese-funded development projects and meet Prime Minister Aminata Toure before leaving on Saturday.

He told reporters Sall would be visiting Beijing in February.

In Ghana, Wang had described 2014 as a year of "ever-deepening reform" in China, with the target of "national rejuvenation".

Chinese trade with Africa stood at $200 billion in 2012, prompting talk of the continent as a potential battleground for a proxy economic Cold War with Western powers.