African Leaders Debunk the Narrative of China’s “Debt Diplomacy”

The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which took place in Beijing Sept. 3-4, was critical for advancing the “new paradigm” of cooperation as opposed to geopolitics. Western mainstream media hardly reported on the event, other than to hypocritcally complain that China is strapping African countries with debt they will never be able to repay, i.e., the so-called “debt trap”.

That issue was addressed in a number of statements and comments during the Summit.

  • The co-chair of FOCAC, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, categorically rejected such propaganda, which is particularly prevalent among the former colonial powers. We are confident, Ramaphosa said, that the BRI “will reduce the costs and increase the volume of trade between Africa and China. It will encourage the development of Africa’s infrastructure, a critical requirement for meaningful regional and continental integration.” In addition:
  • The President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, stated on the sidelines of the summit: “Let me be very clear that Africa has absolutely no debt crisis; African countries are desperate for infrastructure.” According to Xinhua, he noted that their “population is rising, urbanization is there, and fiscal space is very small… They are taking on a lot more debt, but in the right way.”

Dismissing the idea that the China-imposed debt has begun to cripple Africa, Adesina pointed out that the continent’s overall debt-to-GDP went up from 22% in 2010 to 37% last year. He stressed that the ratio is markedly lower than the 100 or 150% of many higher-income countries, or of over 50% emerging economies have.

  • The head of Afria’s most populous nation, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, was just as affirmative. “Let me use this opportunity to address and dispel insinuations about a so-called Chinese debt trap,” he told the press, as reported in TVC News. “These vital infrastructure projects being funded are perfectly in line with Nigeria’s Economic Recovery & Growth Plan. Some of the debts, it must be noted, are self-liquidating. Nigeria is fully able to repay all the loans as and when due, in keeping with our policy of fiscal prudence and sound housekeeping.”

He noted that Nigeria’s partnership with China through FOCAC has resulted in the execution of critical infrastructure projects valued at more than $5 billion, over the last three years. “We have completed West Africa’s first urban rail system, valued at $500 million, in Abuja. Before then was the 180 km rail line that connects Abuja and Kaduna, completed and commissioned in 2016, and running efficiently since then,” Buhari added.

  • Zimbabwe is one of China’s most ancient trade partners, as President Emmerson Mnangagwa proudly pointed out at the Summit. An editorial published in the government-linked newspaper Chronicle of Zimbabwe during the Summit noted that “China’s assistance to Africa is actually yielding tangible results, and instead of trapping African economies in debt, China-Africa co-operation under the framework of China’s Belt and Road Initiative is intended to target the continent’s major development bottlenecks so as to realize tangible benefits for both peoples…. On a continent where more than 600 million people still have no access to electricity, 40% of the Chinese loans go for power generation and transmission. Another 30% seek to modernize Africa’s transport infrastructure.”
  • The Chronicle cites the report released by McKinsey & Company in June 2017, concluding that no other country has such a depth and breadth of engagement with Africa as China, and then continue: “It is rather ironic that Western countries are cautioning Africa against Chinese ‘neo-colonialism’ when their own colonial past impoverished the continent by literally sucking it dry of its natural resources.”