China’s presence in Djibouti deserves respect for its positive influence in Africa

By Song Shengxia Source:Global Times Published: 2017/1/20 0:38:39

China's presence in Djibouti, a strategic location in Africa, has always been seen as a microcosm of China's engagement with Africa and has drawn close scrutiny from the outside world. Thus, it comes as no surprise that construction of the China-funded Djibouti Free Trade Zone (FTZ) has been put under the microscope and China's motives have been questioned.

With a total initial investment of $340 million, China's largest public port operator Dalian Port Corporation recently commenced construction of the Djibouti FTZ. It is positioned to be the largest FTZ in Africa covering 48 square kilometers and is expected to handle trade worth $7 billion within two years after its opening by the end of the year. Djibouti has been plagued by a high level of poverty, with more than 40 percent of the population under the poverty line. It is anticipated that the new FTZ will give a boost to Djibouti's economy which is largely built on transport and logistics services. According to a Reuters report, the new FTZ has the potential to generate more than 15,000 direct and indirect jobs in the country.

Western media tend to politicalize China's commercial investment in Africa. For example, following the construction of a logistics hub in Djibouti last year, Western media called it China's first overseas naval base. But in fact, the base is designed to support Chinese peacekeeping missions and antipiracy operations.

In building the Djibouti FTZ and the logistics base, China does have a vested interest given the bustling two-way trade through the Djibouti port and the rampant piracy near Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, which has in the past obstructed the normal traffic flow. But such projects are not designed to only benefit China.

As Djibouti is strategically located in northeast Africa at the crossroads of one of the world's busiest shipping routes linking Europe, Africa and Asia, the FTZ could facilitate trade between China and countries along the "Belt and Road" routes. That means China will not be the only stakeholder that benefits from this project. Rather, all countries whose trade passes through Djibouti port will be able to reap the rewards.

Over the last decade China's growing investment in Africa has drawn skepticism from the West, which dubbed the move "China's new colonialism in Africa." But China has no intention of vying for dominance in the continent. In fact, China will be gratified to see other countries and emerging economies contribute to economic growth and social progress in Africa and is willing to motivate other countries to join in its effort to help with the continent's development. The fact that China has helped transform Africa into "a hopeful continent" through improving local infrastructure and reducing poverty shows that China is a responsible partner and that its consistent help deserves respect rather than criticism.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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