By Carien du Plessis and Tannur Anders
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - African countries want China to shift its focus from building infrastructure on the continent to local industrialisation, China's top Africa diplomat said on Tuesday at a briefing on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in South Africa.
"African integration is already escalating and many African countries (have) asked China to consider (a) shift (of) our focus," Wu Peng, director-general of China's department of African affairs at its foreign ministry, said.
Wu said the change was needed especially considering the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which was launched at the start of 2021 and is intended to enable African countries to trade tariff-free in future.
China will talk through its plans for African industrialisation with African leaders on Thursday at a special roundtable on the sidelines of the Aug. 22-24 meeting of the BRICS bloc - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Between 2000 and 2020, Chinese lenders - mostly state-owned banks - agreed to lend $160 billion to African countries, according to Boston University.
Loan commitments soared after Xi launched the "Belt and Road Initiative" in 2013 to fund infrastructure in developing countries, but then dropped sharply from a peak of $28.4 billion in 2016 to $1.9 billion in 2020.
Wu said the "urgent" discussion of "emergency issues" couldn't wait until the next Forum for China-Africa Cooperation, a regular meeting between Chinese and African ministers due to take place next year.
He also said that investments by Chinese companies in Africa, especially from small and medium-sized companies, would increase.
"No matter what happens about the global economy, or Chinese economy, the trend in the relatively midterm or long range, (is that) Chinese companies are willing to take some risk (to) go into Africa," Wu added.
(Reporting by Carien du Plessis and Tannur Anders; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)