By Joe Brock
PRETORIA (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks with South Africa's President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday that were expected to focus on boosting investment and trade worth around $20 billion dollars a year.
Without giving any figures, the government issued a statement saying that the trade imbalance was among the issues to be discussed at the bilateral talks.
"I’m hopeful that a number of deals signed today will strengthen our relationship but also boost our trade with China," Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene told Reuters on the sidelines of the talks in Pretoria.
Xi will also co-chair a two-day Forum on China-Africa Cooperation which begins in Johannesburg on Friday, with several African heads of state expected to attend, including Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari.
Summit discussions are seen centering on whether China will extend new loans despite its own slowing economy, while African nations may push for debt moratoriums and technology transfers.
China says its trade with Africa last year was worth $220 billion last year with investments seen at $32.4 billion, but direct investment has fallen roughly 40 percent in the first half of 2015 to $1.19 billion.
Chinese tourism has also declined, with tour operators attributing $540 million of yearly revenue losses to Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba's new visa rules.
But on Wednesday, Gigaba said the Ebola virus in Africa was partly to blame for the drop numbers of Chinese tourists visiting South Africa rather than visa requirements.
"To blame the drop in tourism numbers on visa requirements is lazy," Gigaba said.
Chinese influence is broadly seen by Africans as a healthy counterbalance to the West, though Western governments accuse China of turning a blind eye to conflicts and rights abuses as they pursue trade and aid policies there.
The Chinese president had started his Africa tour in Zimbabwe on Tuesday where he witnessed the signing of 10 business agreements, including Beijing providing $1 billion for the country's largest thermal power plant.
(Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Louise Ireland)