Suspicion of China's aims won't help Africa develop

By Song Qing Source:Global Times Published: 2018/10/1 15:03:45

The 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), held from September 3-4, issued two important documents. The declaration and action plan not only reflect China's major role in promoting the development of the African continent but also show its promise of the "five no" approach to Africa, including no interference in African countries' pursuit of development paths and no interference in African countries' internal affairs.

Except for a small amount of free aid given to Africa in friendship, most of the money China provides to Africa is in the form of market-oriented commercial loans for developing infrastructure, agriculture, healthcare, environmental protection facilities, science and technology, and other fields.

However, some Western media have expressed suspicion about China's support to Africa, with criticism that uses terms like "neocolonialism" and "debt trap." It is necessary to make a direct response to these reports, which are aimed at smearing China's good intentions.

So-called "neocolonialism" actually underscores the ulterior motives of the West. First, the critics believe that China's unconditional aid breaks the rules of Western conditional aid to the continent. Second, it reflects the West's disrespect and arrogance toward African countries. Third, the West is obviously jealous of and vigilant toward China's progress in Africa. 

In recent years, since many African countries have experienced political turmoil and epidemics, Western countries have reduced their investment and even withdrawn from African markets, citing security reasons. On the contrary, China has quickly given a helping hand to Africa to boost local economic development. While fearing China's strength, the West at the same time is also jealous of its achievements in Africa.

Whether aid is "colonialism" or not can be easily assessed in terms of the results. Whether there are upstream and downstream products in the economic structure of China-Africa cooperation could be one. Energy cooperation between China and Africa is not limited to oil exploration -- it also includes the construction of supporting facilities such as refineries and chemical plants. For instance, as a big crude oil producer, Nigeria had to import refined products from the West because it couldn't process its own oil. China thus helped the country build its own refinery, driving up the local oil processing capability in a comprehensive way.

Whether aid brings Africa into the international markets can be another measure. China has helped African countries build more than 6,500 kilometers of railways and supporting infrastructure. For example, there are industry clusters at both ends of the Mombasa-Nairobi railway in Kenya, as the railway boosts local economic connectivity. Thus, the accusation of China's "neocolonialism" in Africa appears to be totally groundless.

Likewise, the speculation that China's large-scale aid to Africa will drive African countries into "debt traps" is also being conjured out of thin air. Any development requires the support of credit. The US debt this year exceeds 105 percent of GDP, with Italy and Japan having even higher ratios. At the end of 2017, the average public debt to GDP ratio in sub-Saharan Africa was only 57 percent. 

Experience has led the West to misinterpret China-Africa cooperation. In the 1980s, African countries were unable to repay their debt, which was later forgiven by the Paris Club. But China-Africa cooperation, based on comprehensive consideration and mechanisms, is a different case -- it attaches great importance to giving African countries the ability to develop.

Western countries that are suspicious of China-Africa cooperation need to engage in serious reflection. For instance, in regard to financial and monetary cooperation, many African countries including Rwanda, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Botswana are moving to include the yuan in their foreign-exchange reserves and even as a settlement currency. The increasing popularity of the yuan in Africa is the natural result of Chinese investment in Africa. 

As a country that has been long deeply involved in the financial stability of the French-speaking African region, France should consider Africa as a continent of the future. When the world changes, it is dangerous to react in old ways.

As the only continent where the population structure hasn't undergone any major change, Africa will bring great challenges and opportunities to European civilization. The reality is that when China invests in Africa, it also indirectly affects the future of Europe. In this sense, France should work with China to participate in Africa's development, rather than cooking up rumors or being on guard. 

In terms of cooperation with Africa, there are complementarities between China and France, as well as Europe as a whole. Only through practical cooperation can the mistrust between China and France, and between China and Europe, be dispelled.

The author is a research fellow at the Center for West Asian & African Studies of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies. bizopinion@globaltimes.com.cn




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