Africa resists becoming a new cold war battleground

Source: Global Times Published: 2020/7/31 20:13:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Editor's Note: 

With tensions between China and the US ramping up, Africa seems to have been becoming a new battlefield for the Washington to attack Beijing. Why has the US repeatedly slammed China's cooperation with Africa? Gert Grobler (Grobler), a former senior diplomat in the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation, and senior research fellow with the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University, shared his views with Global Times (GT) reporter Lu Yuanzhi over these issues in a written interview.

GT: South Africa was the first African country to sign the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) memorandum of understanding with China. What does the current China-South Africa cooperation under the framework of BRI and its implications mean for locals there?

South Africa and China are committed to cooperating on strategic and high quality BRI projects in South Africa and on the continent. This will encourage more qualified Chinese companies to enter the South African and African markets. In fact, given the serious implications of COVID-19 for South Africa's economy, President Ramaphosa stated recently that South Africa was "putting infrastructure at the heart of its post-COVID economic recovery." 

This vital "infrastructure initiative" could offer attractive opportunities for enhanced China-South Africa economic cooperation in a BRI context and also see the formation of strong and comprehensive economic ties between the two countries. 

South Africa-China cooperation on BRI is bound to gain new momentum. This is particularly true for infrastructure sectors, which are priorities. This is, in fact, "work in progress." South Africa is aware of China's significant and wide-ranging expertise in the field of infrastructure development and is also cognizant of China's recently launched and impressive "New Infrastructure" initiative to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. This will further add sustainable economic growth in China.

GT: The West often describes the BRI as a debt trap for developing countries. What's your take?

The West, in particular the US, has fabricated the so-called "new colonial" and "debt trap" fallacies to smear China, and undermine China-Africa cooperation. These counterproductive and malicious attacks focus heavily on economic cooperation. They are aimed at deliberately misleading and manipulating public opinion about China's true intentions in Africa and globally.

GT: As competition between China and the US intensifies, the US has increasingly criticized China's cooperation with Africa. What is the difference between China's aid to Africa and that of US programs?

China has indeed been a reliable partner, always honoring its commitments in an efficient, pragmatic and result-oriented manner. China has become the most important partner and contributor to Africa's economic growth and development. 

The US, compared to China, has never made a wholehearted attempt to develop its economic ties with Africa. President Trump's administration has been lukewarm at best about extending a hand of friendship to Africa. In fact, the US, with its total annual trade with Africa of $55 billion compared to that of China amounting to $200 billion, has been playing a "catch-up" game on the continent.

The US under the Trump administration, however, increasingly regards China as an "existential threat" to the global economic and political order. This alarming approach that must be seen against the background of the anxiety in the US about its diminishing global political, economic and military dominance is reminiscent of Cold War language in substance and form. 

It is very regrettable that although China has, in a responsible and respectful manner, tried to stabilize its ties and cooperation with the US, seeing that the two countries still remain closely interlinked in trade and investment, the growing tensions fueled by Trump/Pompeo show that the US has no intention of ending its senseless and counterproductive bullying approach toward China. 

It is indeed unfortunate that due to the political upheaval in the US as a result of the gross mishandling by President Trump of the spread of COVID-19, the resulting serious negative impact on the economy, and the despicable George Floyd racist incident and subsequent turmoil, the president has further lost all sense of responsibility and reason in his conduct of foreign policy. 

In order to try and salvage his presidential electoral campaign, virtually in a state of panic, Trump has opted to further step up his "China-bashing" campaign - hence the growing and wider attacks against China. This unfair and childish campaign is predominantly motivated by domestic politics with China unfortunately becoming a leverage in US internal political affairs.

The negative approach by the US toward China's constructive role in Africa is also highly regrettable, particularly at a time when the continent is battling with the spread of the COVID-19. This virus is bound to have a negative impact on African economy. The growing tensions between the two leading powers will undoubtedly have a detrimental impact on Africa's progress, development and stability. Africa could again become a battleground in a "new cold war."

GT: At the G20 summit in Japan in 2019, President Ramaphosa spoke highly of the contribution Huawei has made to the development of telecommunication sectors in South Africa. On the other hand, the US has spared no effort to urge Western countries to ban Huawei. What is your opinion on Huawei's development in African countries? 

As part of the Trump/Pompeo "China-bashing at all costs" campaign, the US has made Huawei part of this frenzied activity over security fears and technology autonomy. Washington has urged partner countries to avoid doing business with the company. 

Huawei has significantly strengthened its position in Africa and has established itself across the continent since launching in Kenya in 1998. It currently operates in 40 African countries, providing 4G networks to more than half of the continent. Africa is a market that Huawei had identified and entered thanks to its excellent products and brand, as well as a robust strategy based on reasonable financing and speed of execution.

Huawei and the African Union (AU) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to consolidate their collaboration and establish the necessary arrangements to ensure effective cooperation on information and communications technologies. This collaboration shows the AU's continuous trust in Huawei, particularly after accusations were made by the Western media in 2018 that China had bugged the AU's headquarters in Addis Ababa, which was constructed by China. Both China and the AU strongly rejected these allegations.

This unfortunate dispute between the US and China about Huawei furthermore comes at a juncture where there is a critical need for Africa to get ready for, and take advantage of, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Africa is preparing itself to take a "great quantum leap" into the future and ensure that technological advances benefit all the people of the continent. President Ramaphosa added that the 4IR represents one of the "greatest and most fundamental tectonic shifts of our time with huge new opportunities for the enhancement of people's lives."

GT: You once said no government across the world would allow irresponsible demonstrations and chaos, and measures should be taken to curb such moves. However, some Western countries have repeatedly blamed China for the national security law for Hong Kong. Washington even approved related sanctions. China has the sovereignty over Hong Kong. Why do Western countries strongly criticize China over this legislation?

The attack by the West on China mainly has its origins in the stepped up "China-bashing" campaign by the Trump administration. This is motivated by domestic politics and by geopolitical considerations. A South African commentator recently explained it as follows: "Seething underneath such rhetoric is the China-US trade war, the COVID-19 blame game and the undermining of China's health diplomacy worldwide."

As regards Hong Kong, the point must indeed be made at the outset that Hong Kong has never belonged to Britain and was in fact "stolen" from China in the 1840s under humiliating colonial and imperialistic conditions. Hong Kong is an integral and inalienable part of China. Britain and the US and others must accept this. There are so many false and unsubstantiated accusations and lies on the part of the West regarding the recent introduction of the national security legislation for Hong Kong. 

However, the challenge that the Chinese leadership has faced over the last number of years is that anti-China and pro-democracy rioters in Hong Kong, supported by foreign forces, have engaged in subversive and secessionist as well as terrorist activities. China therefore had no choice but to close the loopholes in Hong Kong's national security legislation. This will ensure the continued smooth implementation of the "one country, two systems." Security legislation of this nature is, in fact, a common occurrence worldwide.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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