By Sui-Lee Wee
BEIJING (Reuters) - China is set to announce new aid to African nations when President Xi Jinping visits Zimbabwe and South Africa next month, a senior Chinese official said on Wednesday.
The trip is likely to boost China's relations with Africa, which supplies oil and raw materials such as copper and uranium to the world's second-largest economy.
China is Africa's largest trading partner and the trade volume between them amounted to $220 billion in 2014, according to China state news agency Xinhua.
Zhang Ming, one of China's vice foreign minister, said President Xi will provide further details in his keynote speech on Dec 4.
"As for whether China will continue to provide support and aid, there will be no doubt about it," Zhang said, declining to provide further details on the aid amount and its purpose.
Xi is scheduled to meet Zimbabwe's 91-year-old President Robert Mugabe on December 1-2, Zhang said. He will also meet South Africa's President Jacob Zuma on December 2-3 and co-chair a two-day summit between China and African countries in Johannesburg after the meeting.
The summit in December will be the second such high-level forum following one held in Beijing in 2006, Zhang said.
"This African trip by President Xi Jinping will be the most important, comprehensive and valuable visit in recent years," Zhang said.
Xi visited Africa in 2013 shortly after he took office as president. Mugabe reciprocated with a visit to China in 2014 in an attempt to seek loans and investments to lift Zimbabwe's struggling economy.
Beijing's focus on growing trade and aid in Africa leaves it open to charges by the West of turning a blind eye to conflicts and rights abuses in the continent.
Trade with resource-rich Africa has exploded in the last decade as China feeds its industrial machine amid African demand for cheap Chinese products.
The EU has rejected what they call China's "cheque book" approach to doing business with Africa, saying it would continue to demand good governance and the transparent use of funds from its trading partners.
Chinese firms in Africa also face criticism for using imported labor to build government-financed projects like roads and hospitals, while pumping out raw resources and processing them in China, leaving little for local economies.
China's friendship with Africa dates back to the 1950s, when Beijing backed liberation movements in the continent fighting to throw off Western colonial rule.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Kavita Chandran)