Zambia's finance minister criticised the prolonged nature of the country's debt restructuring negotiations, the Financial Times reported on Monday, after a Chinese call for the World Bank and other multilateral lenders to offer debt relief sparked concern about further delays.

In an interview with the newspaper, Situmbeko Musokotwane said that "time is of the essence" to finish a restructuring of about $13 billion of external debt this year.

Multilateral development lenders, which don't usually take haircuts, should participate in debt relief for Zambia, a Chinese foreign ministry official said last month. This insistence was one of the main sticking point in talks, a U.S. Treasury official told Reuters.

"Discussions at higher levels like those just make our situation worse, because what we are looking for is urgent solutions, not discussions that may drag out the matter," the FT report quoted Musokotwane as saying.

"China has always attached great importance to the Zambian debt issue," Wang Wenbin, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, told a regular press briefing in Beijing on Monday. "Under the common framework of the Group of 20, it has played a constructive role in dealing with Zambia's debt," he added.

The People's Bank of China and the Ministry of Finance both did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Zambia became the first African country to default in the COVID-19 era in 2020, but the restructuring of its external debts of almost $15 billion with creditors including China and Eurobond holders has been greatly delayed.

Government data showed Zambia owed Chinese creditors nearly $6 billion of the total of $17 billion external debt at the end of 2021.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and other Group of Seven countries have grown increasingly frustrated about what they see as foot-dragging by China in moving forward on debt rescheduling for countries seeking help.

China, for its part, argues that multilateral institutions should also be required to accept reductions in the debt they are owed.

(Reporting by Akriti Sharma in Bengaluru, Joe Cash and Martin Quin Pollard in Beijing, and Rachel Savage in Johannesburg; Editing by Kim Coghill, Simon Cameron-Moore and Toby Chopra)