China and Africa ended an unprecedented summit Sunday by signing deals worth $1.9 billion US and pledging to boost trade and development between the world's fastest-growing economy and its poorest continent.

Chinese President Hu Jintao already had pledged billions of dollars in aid and loans to Africa during the two-day meeting in Beijing, part of the Chinese government's efforts to strengthen its ties to Africa amid its search for new oil sources and export markets.

In a declaration read at the end of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, China and 48 African countries pledged a partnership based on "political equality and mutual trust, economic win-win co-operation and cultural exchanges."

"We hold that the world today is undergoing complex and profound changes, and that the pursuit of peace, development and cooperation has become the trend of the times," Hu said after the summit, which was the biggest diplomatic meeting ever in China.

The event included heads of state from 35 of the 53 African countries and top officials from 13 others.

"In a new era, China and Africa have common development goals and converging interests which offer a broad prospect for co-operation," Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said in reading out part of the declaration.

"We hold that the establishment of a new type of strategic partnership is both the shared desire and independent choice of China and Africa, serves our common interests and will help enhance solidarity and mutual support and assistance," Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said.

The declaration also called on developed nations to increase their help to Africa.

"We urge the developed countries to increase official development assistance and honour their commitments to opening markets and debt relief," the Ethiopian leader said.

Bigger role for Africa in UN urged

The increased assistance from the developed world would include greater financial and technical help to boost Africa's capacity to fight poverty and disasters, and realize its UN Millennium Development Goals.

The declaration also called for a bigger role for Africa in the United Nations.

"Priority should be given to increasing the representation and full participation of African countries in the UN Security Council and other UN agencies," it said.

China and Africa had shown their economic potential earlier Sunday by signing more than a dozen trade deals worth $1.9 billion US, while a Chinese company announced a $8.3 billion contract to build a railway in Nigeria.

Chinese companies signed 14 agreements with African governments and companies at the conclusion of a conference of Chinese and African entrepreneurs that was part of the larger forum in Beijing, the official Xinhua news agencysaid.

The deals cover infrastructure, resources, construction, telecommunications and finance, Xinhua said.

China to double aid to Africa

China Civil Engineering Construction Corp. said it signed a deal on Oct. 30 with Nigeria's transport ministry to build a railway in the West African country, the continent's largest oil producer.

The 1,300-kilometre railway will link the southern city of Lagos with Kano in the north. It would be China's largest overseas engineering project by value, the company said on its websiteon Saturday.

Hu on Saturday pledged to double China's aid to Africa from its 2006 level by 2009. He promised $3 billion US in loans, $2 billion in export credits and a $5 billion fund to encourage Chinese investment in Africa.

It was not clear whether the government's promised $5 billion investment fund played a role in the deals announced Sunday.

African leaders at the meeting said they welcomed Chinese investment and business ties, but Beijing also faced criticism that it is treating Africa like a colonial territory and supports African regimes with poor human rights records.

Aid with 'no strings attached'

"Chinese assistance to Africa is sincere, unselfish and has no strings attached," Premier Wen Jiabao said atthe gathering of entrepreneurs.

China's trade with Africa soared to $39.7 billion in 2005, four times its 2000 level, according to Wen. He called for efforts to boost that to $100 billion by 2020, and promised to open China's markets wider to African exports.

The African countries also said in the declaration that they were committed to a "one-China" policy and opposed Taiwanese independence. China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing considers the self-governing island to be Chinese territory.

China's state oil companies are expanding in Africa, signing deals in Nigeria, Angola, Sudan and elsewhere. Manufacturers are trying to expand exports to African markets.

Human rights activists accuse China of supporting governments such as those in Sudan and Zimbabwe that are accused of chronic abuses. African business groups complain about poor treatment by Chinese companies and competition from a flood of low-cost imports.