How China is wooing African countries

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Chinese President Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping
PHOTO: Ding Lin, Xinhua via Getty Images
  • China has promised African countries R170 billion from its special drawing rights at the IMF.
  • China's ambassador to Zimbabwe says no African country experienced economic distress or political crisis because of dealing with China.
  • Academics say the China-Africa relationship is mutually beneficial economically.

While the United States seeks to outcompete China in Africa, the Asian superpower just made it more difficult by announcing that it would cancel some interest-free loans to 17 African countries.

Early this month, the US sent delegations across Africa. The most high-powered one was led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who visited South Africa, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Their mandate was to promote the new US Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, which attempts to strengthen US-Africa relations.

It was not a coincidence that while the US was still reviewing the results from the African trips, China came up with a masterstroke debt write-off initiative.

READ | US will compete with China in Africa, but collaborate or be an adversary where necessary

It's an attempt to demystify the widely held view that China's involvement in Africa centres on the debt trap offensive.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last week addressed a virtual seminar as part of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). 

At the seminar, he announced that 23 interest-free loans to 17 African countries due at the end of last year would be cancelled.

He also revealed that China would present African countries with R170 billion from its special drawing rights at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help them deal with the negative impacts of Covid-19 on their economies.

Too good to be true?

Garth Shelton, an associate professor in the department of international relations at Wits University, said the relationship between China and Africa is largely economic and mutually beneficial.

"The relationship between Africa and China is very much an economic relationship. Both sides have specific economic benefits. Africa sells a wide range of raw materials to China, which China needs for the continuous industrialisation process and construction in their country.

READ | West will struggle to catch up with China in Africa, new report finds

"It's a very convenient relationship for both sides, so there's no need for Africa to import any kind of political system from China. It's a business relationship," he said.

About the debt write-off initiative, Shelton said that while there were no specifics on each loan, China could afford to cancel the debts because they had deep pockets.

He said:

Because of the speed of China's economic development, they do have extra capital available to make loans to other countries. It's to their advantage to make loans to Africa. China has a strong interest in maintaining a positive relationship with African economies.

Speaking at the Zimbabwe Annual Investor Forum, China's ambassador to Zimbabwe Guo Shaochu, said his country seeks Africa as an equal partner.

"In its cooperation with Africa, China stays committed to the principles of equality and mutual benefits while respecting the independent choices of African countries," he said.

He added that despite what China's rivals say "not a single African country slid into domestic political unrest or economic distress because of its cooperation with China".

America under pressure

The US pledged about R3.4 trillion over five years as part of the Group of Seven's plan to mobilise R10.2 trillion in global infrastructure investments, notably in Africa.

There is also the R187 million pledge where 16 African countries will benefit to improve food security value chains. 

Joseph Sany, the vice president at the US Institute of Peace's Africa Center, argued that the US should do more than just pledge:

A first challenge for the United States is to show it is following through on commitments already made that are vital to Africa.

He also said the US should, "demonstrate through action" and listen to African voices.

Long-term perspectives on Asia–Africa relations

Last week the Institute of Security Studies held a webinar to discuss China's fast growth to become Africa’s largest trading partner. The discussion also addressed China's influence on the continent.

It also explored how relations between Asia and Africa could evolve in the future presenting four key scenarios, a divided world, a world at war, a growth world, and a sustainable world.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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