Having overtaken the United States as Africa's biggest trading partner two years ago, China is continuing to cement its relationship with the continent, with President Hu Jintao pledging $20 billion in loans over the next three years at a meeting in Beijing attended by leaders from 50 African countries.

A statement issued at the end of a two-day meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), first formed in 2000, said: "We believe that the development of the new type of strategic partnership between China, the largest developing country, and Africa, the largest group of developing countries, is of great significance for the peace, stability and development of the world and serves the fundamental and strategic interests of both sides."

Both China and Africa, the statement said, "are ready to strengthen the building of FOCAC so that it will continue to steer China-Africa relations toward greater development."