BEIJING (Reuters) - China's biggest lender by assets, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, said on Wednesday it had signed an infrastructure pact worth $2 billion with the oil-rich west African nation of Equatorial Guinea. The agreement was signed on Tuesday following a meeting in Beijing between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Equatorial Guinea President Teodor Obiang Nguema, marking the latest Chinese investment in the continent and its resources. The deal will include providing "financial support" to Equatorial Guinea's government as well as Chinese enterprises there, ICBC said in a statement. China has sought to broaden financial support for its companies investing abroad as part of a policy drive known as "going out". "There are growing numbers of cooperation areas between our two countries, and the prospects are very bright," Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told Obiang on Wednesday, according to a government statement. The two countries should deepen their "traditional friendship", Li added. ICBC called Africa the "strategic and developmental heart of 'going out'" for firms the bank supports. "Equatorial Guinea is a central African country that has developed relatively well," the government said. "The government in recent years has supported expanded investment into infrastructure development, and the need for infrastructure projects is enormous." Many Chinese development and aid projects have drawn condemnation from rights groups for their support of governments with poor rights records and lack of transparency, including Zimbabwe, Sudan and Angola. China has said it will not follow the path of "Western colonists" in Africa by sacrificing countries' long-term interests or environments. Beijing says it follows a policy of non-interference in other countries' domestic politics that is welcomed in Africa. Equatorial Guinea, a tiny Sub-Saharan African nation, boasts the highest GDP per capita in Africa, thanks to a hydrocarbon boom. But it is also notorious for corruption and ranked 144 of 187 states on the U.N.'s 2014 Human Development Index. A 2004 U.S. Senate probe showed millions of dollars channeled by Obiang and relatives into the disgraced Riggs Bank. Obiang, in power since 1979, is Africa's longest-serving head of state. Rights groups say he has enriched himself and his family while many of his people go hungry. China is Africa's biggest trade partner, and has sought to tap the continent's rich resources to fuel its economic boom. Critics, including some African leaders, have said Chinese projects bring little benefit to Africans, with materials and workers brought in from China. (Reporting by Shu Zhang, Ben Blanchard and Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Clarence Fernandez)
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