Investment by China in Africa wins friends and trust of nations
Following the announcement of another US$60 billion for the continent, President Xi Jinping is also seeking a more balanced trade relationship
Africa has proved a long-term economic investment for China, even when the West despaired for the continent’s growth prospects and remained sceptical of Beijing’s global ambitions. It has long since paid off in terms of perceptions, with surveys showing that nowhere is public opinion more positive about China than in Africa. The reason is not hard to find. China’s deepening engagement with Africa has not only served its own needs for resources, but met the continent’s need for a strong partnership as it strives for economic transformation. President Xi Jinping has just doubled down on investment with the announcement of a US$60 billion package as leaders of more than 50 African countries met in Beijing for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. It came on top of a similar commitment announced at a previous summit three years ago.
This time it came with the promise of debt waivers for the continent’s least developed nations and the inclusion of US$15 billion in grants, interest-free and concessional loans as well as investment by financial institutions and companies.
African countries have maintained a strong pace of growth since the 1990s but, to catch up with Asia’s economic rise, they need to transform their economies, beginning with closing a large infrastructure gap. This helps explain why perceptions of China are so positive, thanks not only to increases in bilateral trade and foreign investment, but also to the focus on infrastructure development in Xi’s signature “Belt and Road Initiative”. In a strong defence of the initiative, Xi said China was not pursuing “political self-interest” in its investments in Africa. They did not come with political strings or interference in the internal affairs of African countries.
Indeed, since the rule of Mao Zedong decades ago, Chinese aid to Africa has been unconditional. An example is medical cooperation between China and Africa that started in 1963 when China sent its first medical team to Algeria, and which has continued to grow in the 21st century.
The China-Africa forum has prompted references in the West to the new colonisation of the continent. But such scepticism has proved unfounded over the past decade as Africa has become the booming continent typified by Ethiopia, a manufacturing base with a young demographic for hundreds of Chinese companies.
Africa has a lot of resources. China sees it as the future. The two economies can complement each other. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa rightly cautioned that China and Africa should work towards a more balanced trade relationship. It is good to see that Xi heard him, with a pledge to expand imports beyond resources needed to fuel China’s industrial economy.