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China's ICBC in infrastructure deal worth $2 bln with Equatorial Guinea

BEIJING (Reuters) - Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China’s biggest lender by assets, said on Wednesday it had signed an infrastructure agreement worth $2 billion with Equatorial Guinea.

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd (ICBC) building is pictured behind the Puente de La Mujer (Women's Bridge) at the Buenos Aires docks April 18, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian

The agreement was signed on Tuesday following a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Equatorial Guinea President Teodor Obiang Nguema in Beijing.

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 Chinese companies investing abroad as part of a policy drive known as “going out”.

ICBC called Africa the “strategic and developmental heart of ‘going out’” for firms the bank supports.

“Based on our understanding, Equatorial Guinea is a central African country that has developed relatively well,” the statement 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 for their support of governments with poor human 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 ecological environments. Beijing says it espouses a policy of non-interference in other countries’ domestic politics.

Equatorial Guinea, a tiny Sub-Saharan African nation, boasts the highest GDP per capita in Africa thanks to a hydrocarbons boom. But it is also notorious for corruption and ranked 144 out of 187 states on the U.N.’s 2014 Human Development Index.

A 2004 U.S. Senate probe revealed millions of dollars channeled by Obiang and relatives into the disgraced Riggs Bank.

Obiang, who has held power since 1979, is Africa’s longest-serving head of state. Rights groups have accused him of enriching 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 local people, with materials and workers brought in from China.

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