China pledges to support Africa without 'imposing its will'

China's President Xi Jinping (centre) is pictured with African leaders at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Senegal. PHOTO: REUTERS

DIAMNIADIO, SENEGAL (AFP) - China promised on Tuesday (Nov 30) to help African countries overcome Covid-19 related economic woes "without imposing its will," faced with accusations that it often plays a coercive role on the continent.

Released at the close of a China-Africa summit in Senegal, a joint declaration committed to Chinese non-interference in African domestic affairs, and vice versa.

The text also included language on African governments upholding the principle that Taiwan is part of China.

The summit between China and 53 African states, with an emphasis on trade and security among other issues, was held in the city of Diamniadio near Senegal's seaside capital Dakar.

China invests heavily in Africa, and is the continent's largest trading partner with direct trade worth over US$200 billion (S$270 billion) in 2019, according to the Chinese embassy in Dakar.

But Beijing is often accused of using its creditor status to extract diplomatic and commercial concessions.

China rejects these charges, arguing that it responds to the funding needs of poor African countries while taking debt sustainability seriously.

Tuesday's joint declaration said that China would not interfere in the "development path" set by African countries and that it would also refrain from "imposing its will on Africa".

There were hopes among some African leaders ahead of the summit that China would offer debt relief, or promise fresh rounds of investment, after the pandemic struck an economic blow to many already struggling countries on the continent.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday addressed attendees via video link, promising to donate 600 million vaccine doses to African countries.

He added that a further 400 million doses would come from other sources, such as investments in production sites, which are sorely lacking across much of Africa.

African and Chinese officials also pledged to strengthen cooperation in "public health, investment, trade, industrialisation, infrastructure, agriculture and food security, climate change, peace and security," according to the declaration.

China-US rivalry

The China-Africa summit in Senegal took place against a backdrop of growing rivalry between Beijing and Washington, and a competition for influence on the continent.

It also follows a visit this month from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal, where he discussed boosting local vaccine-production sites, and alluded to the sometimes fraught nature of Africa's relationship to China.

The summit's joint declaration warned against the "politicisation" of human rights and sporting activities, in an apparent reference to the possibility that the US will diplomatically boycott February's Winter Olympics in Beijing.

US President Joe Biden has said he is considering the move over alleged abuses against Muslim minorities in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang.

It would mean that while US athletes would still compete in the games, government representatives would not be in the stands.

The summit declaration also urged developed countries to "show greater ambition" in the fight against climate change and offer more aid to African countries at the forefront of global warming.

Both China and African countries "have a right to development," the document said, referring to concerns that restrictions on fossil fuels will harm poor countries.

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.