Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday renewed Japan's pledge to boost investment in Africa from the country's private sector to more than $20 billion over the next three years, in the hope of facilitating the giant continent's development.

"We will do whatever it takes to assist the advancement of Japanese companies into Africa," Abe told African leaders who gathered for the Tokyo International Conference on African Development.

In a speech at the opening ceremony of the three-day conference in Yokohama, near Tokyo, Abe said Japan has long emphasized human resource development in Africa, adding, "We are in an era in which the challenges Africa faces will be resolved through science, technology, and innovation."

To that end, Abe also proposed a set of human resource development programs for Africa, including training 3,000 people in Japan over six years, who can contribute to the promotion of business between Japan and the continent.

A total of $20.6 billion was invested in Africa from the Japanese private sector between 2016 and 2018, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Abe's pledge meant that the government would encourage greater investment from the private sector with the aim of surpassing the previous three-year total, although he did come up with a specific numerical target.

The seventh TICAD through Friday will focus more on business opportunities than previous meetings as Tokyo believes investment by the private sector is crucial to realizing sustainable economic growth of the resource-rich continent, government officials said.

Japan wants its domestic companies to tap into the growth of the continent, whose population is projected to reach 2.5 billion in 2050, or a quarter of the global population, amid fierce competition with China, the United States and other rivals.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who co-chairs the conference along with Abe, said, "On behalf of Africa, I'll be calling upon the world institutions and multinational companies to invest in our continent."

Japanese companies had nearly 800 offices in Africa in 2017, up around 50 percent from 10 years ago, according to the Japan External Trade Organization.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, a former Chadian foreign minister who has been chairman of the African Union Commission since 2017, hailed the proposals, saying, "We have had a real deficit in issues of innovation and technology, and we hope that TICAD 7 will come up with innovative solutions in order to have large-scale training of our youth in the areas."

During the conference, leaders or representatives from about 50 African nations and officials from international organizations are expected to discuss other topics such as the promotion of resilient and sustainable societies, as well as peace and stability.

As part of Japan's efforts to promote universal health coverage, Abe also promised to make basic medical care accessible to an additional 3 million people in the continent.

The participants will adopt a joint declaration and action plans when they wrap up the conference on Friday.

According to Japanese government sources, the planned declaration will express concern over excessive debt among some African countries, a veiled reference to what critics call China's "predatory" lending practices.

China has been criticized for providing large loans to developing countries that are ill-equipped to pay off the debt, often called debt-trap diplomacy, under Beijing's Belt and Road infrastructure development initiative.

The international conference was held every five years from 1993 until its fifth session in 2013 in Yokohama. Since then, it has occurred every three years, with the first edition on the African continent taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2016.

The seventh round is co-hosted by the Japanese government, the United Nations, the World Bank, the U.N. Development Program and the African Union Commission.

On the sidelines of the plenary sessions, Abe held a series of bilateral meetings with participants, including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

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