At the turn of the 21st century, China and Africa established what would become one of the world’s most vibrant and successful multilateral platforms for international co-operation – the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (Focac).
Since the establishment of Focac, China has become Africa’s biggest economic partner. There is no other country with such depth and breadth of engagement across trade, investment and infrastructure financing in Africa.
In recent months, riots, coups and elections across Africa have once again put the spotlight on China's role on the continent, where it has accumulative investments of about $120 billion (about R1.9 trillion).
This has prompted some commentators and politicians to suggest that the Sino-African relationship is one-sided and needs re-balancing to assuage public fears, fuelled by relentless Western misinformation campaigns claiming that China’s strategy is a new form of colonialism aimed at gaining control of Africa’s rich mineral resources.
Regional analysts and experts on China have repeatedly dismissed this myopic view, because it misrepresents Beijing’s political, historical and economic approach to the developing world.
Since the 2000s, China’s trade with Africa has multiplied by 20. It exceeded $200bn in 2019. And its investment is estimated to account for 20% of Africa’s economic growth.
Today, there is no African country where China has not invested heavily, partly – but not solely – as a result of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Admittedly, much of this has taken the form of loans for infrastructure projects: deep-water ports, roads, railways and dams. But there is no evidence that this is a wily scheme to try to “buy” the continent.
By no means. Since July last year, even several Western institutions, SAIS-CARI (Johns Hopkins University), Chatham House and the Brookings Institute, have undertaken research showing no evidence at all of the much-touted “debt trap” scenario.
China’s aim remains primarily development, without which Africa cannot play the role it should in the global trading system. China has long been following the principle of upholding justice and pursuing shared interests in dealing with issues like lending and debt suspension.
The measures China has taken strongly boosted African countries’ socio-economic growth and helped ease their debt burden. The term “debt trap” was coined by the US, which does not hide its frustrations that African countries have embraced China rather than US as their preferred development partner.
China has remained Africa’s largest trading partner for more than a decade, with the volume of trade reaching over $180bn last year. On the other hand, Africa’s trade with the US was only $17.8bn in 2019.
This is the real problem; that the US has lost Africa in terms of trade and also as a source of projects for American companies. When the US finds itself on the losing end, it resorts to its old trick of scapegoating, fabricating reasons in a bid to destroy its competitor.
That is how African countries are told to be “careful while dealing with China”. The terms “debt trap” and “China re-colonising Africa” (when in real sense China has never colonised any country in history), are deceptive tendencies by the US to tarnish the image of China in Africa.
Protectionism and unilateralism continue to rise, while wars, terrorist attacks, famines and epidemics are emerging one after another. In such a context, Africa and China need to strengthen co-operation more than ever.
The upcoming Focac meeting is just around the corner. With a stronger partnership between Africa and China, Focac will surely maintain its vitality and strive to enhance the well-being of the African and Chinese peoples.
* Adams is a councillor in the City of Cape Town and president of the Democratic Independents
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.