Veteran envoys defend China's engagement record in Africa

China's President Xi Jinping and Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China yesterday.
China's President Xi Jinping and Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China yesterday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

They reject Western media accusations of neo-colonialism

Veteran diplomats from China yesterday defended Beijing's record of engagement with African countries, denying that it engaged in neo-colonialism or that it applied its non-interference policy in blanket fashion to the detriment of Africans.

The accusation by Western media that China engages in resource exploitation and neo-colonialism is groundless, said Mr Cheng Tao, a former head of the Africa department at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"Politically speaking we are all equals and economically speaking we do need African resources. But it is done through fair trade and we also help African countries to process their resources," he added.

Noting that African people hated colonialism after struggling against it for 500 years, he said: "If we repeat the approach of colonialism, we will undoubtedly end like those colonists who had been driven away by the African people."

Mr Cheng and two other veteran diplomats were speaking at a press conference ahead of the 7th Forum on China-Africa Cooperation that begins tomorrow.

The two-day forum is a triennial meeting that discusses cooperation across areas such as aid, trade and investment, capacity building, security and peace, sustainable development and poverty alleviation.

EQUAL PARTNERS

Politically speaking we are all equals and economically speaking we do need African resources. But it is done through fair trade and we also help African countries to process their resources.

MR CHENG TAO, a former head of the Africa department at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on China being accused of resource exploitation in Africa


PEOPLE-FOCUSED

China's engagement in Africa is focused on its people and we do not give money to corrupt governments or officials.

MR LIU GUIJIN, a former special representative on foreign affairs, on the Chinese policy of non-interference.

This year's meeting is also likely to discuss subjects like renewable energy, green development and the Belt and Road Initiative.

Held against the backdrop of China's trade war with the United States and other global developments, this year's forum may be more significant for China as it "seeks to strengthen its political, economic, and social ties with the African continent", the China-Africa Research Initiative (Cari) of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in the US, said in a paper last month.

China's engagement with African countries has grown over the decades as it sought resources and new markets in a continent rich in both.

This engagement has come under criticism, including for the policy of non-interference which some in the West say has helped propped up bad governments.

At the press conference yesterday, a Ugandan journalist questioned how this policy was applied to governments which were corrupt or failing and their people suffering.

Responding, Mr Liu Guijin said China no longer executed the policy mechanically.

"We will actively and constructively engage in the settlement of some issues including hot spot issues," said Mr Liu, a former special representative on foreign affairs of the Chinese government.

He noted that there was corruption in Africa which was "a little bit serious" in some countries. However, he said: "China's engagement in Africa is focused on its people and we do not give money to corrupt governments or officials." Instead, assistance was targeted at projects, he added.

China has also been accused of "debt trap" diplomacy in Africa to gain control of strategic ports and secure access to the continent's oil. The oft-cited example of such diplomacy is the leasing of the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka to the Chinese after its government could not repay loans.

The Cari report noted, however, that China was not the major contributor to debt distress in most of the African countries where it was a lender.

These countries' lenders include the Paris Club of mainly Western creditor countries, multilateral lenders and the Middle East. It added that "in just three African countries, Chinese loans are currently the most significant contributor to high risk of/actual debt distress". These are Djibouti, Zambia and Congo.

Still, given the concern over debt sustainability in African countries, the Chinese at the upcoming forum "will emphasise support for investment, including public-private partnerships, over new loans", said the report.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 02, 2018, with the headline 'Veteran envoys defend China's engagement record in Africa'. Print Edition | Subscribe