China-Africa summit rejects fears of development project debt trap
Beijing — Chinese and African officials on Tuesday rejected criticism of Beijing’s debt-laden overseas development projects as they wrapped up a summit that included a new $60bn assistance pledge for the continent.
President Xi Jinping hosted leaders from across Africa amid criticism that China’s Belt and Road global trade infrastructure project is worsening debt problems in some countries.
"Everything we do with China is perfectly under control, including on the financial and debt side," said Senegal’s President Macky Sall, whose country took over the co-chairmanship of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (Focac) for the next three years.
"We shouldn’t let our conscience be disturbed by criticism made regarding the nature of our relations with China," Sall said in remarks alongside Xi and President Cyril Ramaphosa to close the summit. For his part, Xi said the summit "opened a new chapter in the history of China-Africa relations".
Ramaphosa, who handed over the co-chairmanship to Sall, said another achievement at the summit was an agreement to "work hard to increase Africa’s value-added exports to China". On Monday he called for the two sides to work to "balance" trade relations, noting that Africa exports raw materials to China while Chinese factories send finished products back.
Xi opened the summit on Monday with an offer of $60bn in funding for projects over the next three years, saying there were "no political strings attached" but warning against spending on "vanity projects".
Xi also said China would write off the debt of some of the poorest African countries. The money comes on top of $60bn offered at the 2015 summit.
China’s special envoy for African affairs, Xu Jinghu, said Beijing would be "very conscientious" in its co-operation with Africa and conduct feasibility studies before choosing projects. "China has not increased the debt burden of Africa.
"The reasons behind the African debt are quite complex. It has been accumulated for a long time," Xu said. "There are many countries in Africa. Even for the countries that are heavily indebted, China is not the main creditor. So it doesn’t make sense and it’s groundless to put the blame on China for the African debt," she said.
The new financing includes $15bn in grants, interest-free loans and concessional loans, $20bn in credit lines, the creation of a $10bn fund for development financing and a $5bn special fund to pay for imports from Africa. Chinese companies were encouraged to invest at least $10bn on the continent.
Johan Burger, director of the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said Xi’s warning against vanity projects showed the "severity" of the issue.
"Should this money be spent on vanity projects, it will lend credence to the charges against China," Burger said. "China itself does not have a never-ending source of funding, and would not want to see its financing be wasted, with no returns for itself and no real benefit for the countries involved."