Chinese officials have boasted about their country’s ‘influence’ in Africa, just days after the US sent its top diplomat to the continent to ‘right’ relations.
On Wednesday, ahead of a key summit on China-Africa relations due on Sunday, the Chinese government said its ties with Africa are “practical” and not empty promises, and published figures they said support the stance.
Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, told a press conference the Chinese are in Africa because Africans love that, and vowed there won’t be strings on any ties with the continent.
“China has long been engaging in practical cooperation with African countries in various sectors guided by the principle of sincerity, real results, amity and good faith,” Mr Zhao told the media.
Zhao did say Beijing will not object to the various ways Africa’s international development partners offer it support, but he argued the Chinese won’t enter Africa just to target a rival.
Respect African people’s choice
“China will support anything as long as the African people welcome it. We hold that countries, when interacting and cooperating with Africa, should all respect the African people’s choice, listen to the voice of our African friends, and play a truly constructive role in Africa’s economic recovery and development through more concrete actions benefiting the local people,” Zhao said.
“China is the African people’s old friend, true friend and good friend. In conducting cooperation with Africa, we always proceed from the African people’s welfare and the African side’s needs and interests, and never attach any political strings.”
Zhao did not mention the US by name, but was responding to a question about US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit last week to Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal to market what he called a new version of US policy in Africa.
In Nairobi, he told a press conference Washington was sending development assistance and engaging in economic projects
“We’ve provided more than 50 million doses to 43 African countries to date, including, indeed, close to four million doses here in Kenya. We’ve also given more than $1.9 billion in Covid-related assistance across Africa to help meet health and humanitarian needs, including $76 million to Kenya,” Blinken said.
No political strings attached
“And we’ve done this with no political strings attached. This is about saving lives. That is the only metric that matters.”
In Nigeria, where he also addressed an audience at the headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), Blinken said he wasn’t coming to dictate who Africa should relate with.
““I want to be clear: The United States doesn’t want to limit your partnerships with other countries. We want to make your partnerships with us even stronger. We don’t want to make you choose. We want to give you choices,” Blinken had said on Friday last week in Nigeria.
“I also know that many countries across the region are wary of the strings that come with more engagement, and fear that in a world of sharper rivalries among major powers, countries will be forced to choose.”
China is due to co-host the much-delayed Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) next week in Senegal. And Chinese officials have used the occasion to market their apparent influence on the continent.
The Biden administration also announced it will host a summit with African countries next month, becoming the first ever direct engagement between Washington and African capitals.
But while Washington is focusing on democracy and related governance issues at that meeting, the Chinese have tabled their number on the infrastructure front.
According to Beijing, China has been Africa’s largest trading partner for 12 years in a row and it has seen the Asian country contribute to the continent’s infrastructure to the tune never reached by any other world power.
Since FOCAC was launched in 2000, Chinese companies have built or upgraded more than 10,000km of railway and nearly 100,000km of highway, creating a total of over 4.5 million jobs, argued Zhao, the Chinese spokesman, without specifying.
“In terms of investment cooperation, the stock of Chinese direct investment in Africa has exceeded $43.4 billion, making China the fourth largest investor in Africa.”
Avoided debt issue
Chinese officials avoided the sticky issue of debt, which Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump so often used to lampoon China’s influence in Africa.
Wu Peng, the director-general for African affairs at the Chinese foreign ministry, tweeted that the world should let the African people have their say on who they relate with. And he posted figures from an Afrobarometer survey indicating that as many as six in 10 people see China’s contribution to their economic landscape as “positive.”
The report, however, shows that the influence has been slipping recently.
The Chinese government has not yet announced who will lead the delegation to Senegal. President Xi Jinping hasn’t travelled outside his country in more than 600 days, and is likely to address the summit via video link.
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