Chinese envoy to SA slams suggestions China Belt and Road Initiative seeks to dominate poor African countries
Cape Town – China's acting ambassador to South Africa, Li Nan, has moved to defend the Asian country’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) from accusations that it is an attempt to dominate poor countries and trap them in debt.
Li was addressing a virtual symposium on the impact of BRI on the African Continental Free Trade Area’s (AfCFTA) infrastructure development during the Covid-19 pandemic yesterday.
In 2018, most African Union (AU) members signed the AfCFTA in which countries are required to remove tariffs from 90% of their goods in a bid to boost intra-Africa trade and enhance economic integration on the continent.
The event is organised by the Human Sciences Research Council’s (HSRC) BRICS Research Centre in collaboration with the Academy of Contemporary China and World Studies and the AUDA-NEPAD.
BRI is China’s infrastructure development strategy aimed at enhancing regional connectivity and has seen it investing in various countries and organisations around the world since the strategy was adopted in 2013.
Li lamented that some countries, without mentioning them, were hell-bent on discrediting the BRI and accusing the Chinese government of creating debt traps on the continent.
“Through their sinister and hollow accusations, they are aiming to disrupt and undermine the China-Africa relationship.
“We should never be misled by this. China and Africa need to help each other more than to overcome difficulties,” he said.
He added that the BRI had been synergising with the AU’s Agenda 2063, with infrastructure cooperation yielding great achievements over the years.
“China has helped build in Africa over 10 000km of roads and 6 000km of railways, more than 150 stadium, conference centres, parliament buildings and more than 200 schools, and 80 power plants as well as airports,” he said.
He pointed out that China had also remained Africa’s largest trading partner for 11 consecutive years with bilateral trade reaching $208-billion in 2019, adding: “China strongly supports African integration efforts, including the AfCTA, and firmly believe that the implementation of the AfCTA will provide broader space for China-Africa economic and trade cooperation."
United Nations Economic Commission for Africa’s chief for energy, infrastructure Dr Robert Lisinge meanwhile said African economies had huge infrastructural requirements, with the African Development Bank estimating them to be between $130-billion and $170-billion per year.
Lisinge pointed out that many saw Chinese involvement in Africa’s infrastructure as an advantage as it was not accompanied by imposed conditions.
“Western involvement is sometimes linked to conditionalities like reforms in government,” he said.
He, however, acknowledged that there were red flags raised around China’s BRI initiative, including that it was driven by strategic ambitions and political force, and not economically rational and market forces.
“Presently, with the Covid-19, we all know that African countries are going through serious liquidity crises and many find it difficult to pay their debts, including to China, so this is another critic that is coming up very strongly."
He said despite the scepticism, African countries needed China.
“If you want to reap the full benefits of the AfCTA, you need regional infrastructure development and if you want to close the gap in infrastructure development in Africa, you need to bring in all the partners including China through the BRI."
African Union Development Agency’s (AUDA-NEPAD’s) head of strategic initiatives Dr Justina Dugbazah also voiced his views, saying the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on global trade has increased bolster regional economic integration.
Dugbazah said African economies had to push for the achievement of the AfCTA objectives by rebalancing their overreliance on external suppliers in favour of more proximate suppliers which could boost African regional value chains.