Debt trap narrative is poisoned discourse to curtail China’s footprint in Africa

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PRETORIA – Activists, commentators and government officials have rubbished the prevalent narrative which suggests that Beijing’s massive investment and partnership with African countries has created a “debt trap” for the weak African states with fragile economies.

By Jonisayi Maromo

“Somebody has sought to contain China and they make excuses for the criticism, charging against China. Although it is not correct, it is understandable because they are doing this for a purpose which is to smear China. It seems to me some of our African friends are accepting that idea,” Ambassador for Focac affairs at the Chinese foreign affairs ministry Zhou Yuxiao told a Business Day Dialogues event hosted in Joburg, in partnership with the Chinese embassy in South Africa.

“It is somebody’s concept which is being passed on to the Africans and they are gradually accepting it, and I feel very sad. Why do we give loans to African nations? It is because we believe Africa’s development is not as fast as we expect it to be. There is lack of infrastructure, funds and qualified personnel.”

The former Chinese ambassador to Zambia said his country suffers when African nations default on agreed payments to service the loans from Beijing.

“Now it is perceived that we are digging a trap for you to fall in. That is not fair. If you borrow some money from me, and you cannot pay it back, who suffers? I am the one who has lost because I lent you the money. I do not understand the logic of criticising the one who has lost money,” he said.

Moderated by TimesLIVE political analyst and radio host Eusebius McKaiser, the dialogue explored the Africa-China relations post-Covid.

Other panellists at the discussion included Chinese Ambassador to South Africa, Chen Xiaodong; Director for the Centre for China Africa Studies at the University of Johannesburg, Dr David Monyae; deputy president of the SA Students Congress (Sasco); Buyile Matiwane; and political journalist and contributor to Business Day, Financial Mail and the Sunday Times, Sam Mkokeli.

Matiwane said the narrative has been traditionally poisoned against China.

“Let us be honest, the discourse power isn’t in favour of China. That is why there is a lot of false propagation around some of these terms, for example the ‘debt trap’ narrative quite mischievously used,” Matiwane said.

“There is a lot of development that Africa needs and we need to exploit the advantages and the relationship that we have with China. These are business transactions and our leaders have the responsibility to negotiate in our interests.”

At the recent Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (Focac) hosted by Senegal, China’s President Xi Jinping spoke about elevating the China-Africa close relationships which has been nurtured over the past 65 years. The meeting was also addressed by President Cyril Ramaphosa and other African heads of State, virtually.

Monyae said Africa does not acquire maximum benefit from the partnership because it continues to ship off unprocessed goods to China.

“We cannot continue taking raw bananas to China. We need to have products that the Chinese growing middle class would buy. We are competing with other countries in Asia and Latin America who are selling more or less the same product. This summit, I hope, is opening up new avenues where this becomes two-way traffic,” he said.

Ambassador Chen said China supports the ongoing call for waiving of intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines by Africa.

“We are ready to jointly produce vaccines with African countries to guarantee the accessibility and affordability of vaccines in Africa. Under the guidance of the Chinese government, Chinese companies have co-operated with 19 countries to produce vaccines, including Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and other African countries,” he said.

“Chinese vaccines can be manufactured not only in China, but also in Africa. They can be jointly manufactured by China and Africa to enhance Africa’s local production capacity.

“It is believed that with the joint efforts of both sides, Chinese vaccines will be shipped to every place in need in Africa in time and delivered to every person in need in Africa,” Chen said.

From January to October, Chen said China-Africa trade and China’s direct investment in Africa reached over $207 billion and more than $2.6 billion respectively, up 37.5% and 10% year-on-year.