China is doubling down on its “win-win” strategy in Africa

No “vanity” projects.
No “vanity” projects.
Image: Lintao Zhang/Pool via REUTERS
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Chinese president Xi Jinping has affirmed his country’s commitment to its “win-win” cooperation policy with Africa, noting China won’t interfere in the political and development paths of African states. Xi was speaking at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation where he announced $60 billion for development projects in Africa over the next three years.

During his keynote speech on Monday (Sept. 3), Xi said Beijing won’t impose its will on African countries, and seek no selfish gains in investment and financing cooperation, according to state-run press agency Xinhua. China’s “win-win” economic policy stipulates foreign relations as business partnerships, ensuring that Chinese companies get lucrative deals overseas while host nations receive much-needed infrastructure, jobs, skills, and technological transfer.

Xi said China will also exempt some poorer nations from debt, increase imports from Africa, support the building of the continental free trade area, and give scholarships to young Africans. Xi also called on African leaders to support the Belt and Road initiative, a multi-billion-dollar infrastructure project modeled on the old Silk Road.

“China follows the principle of giving more and taking less, giving before taking and giving without asking for return,” Xi said.

The third China-Africa summit is taking place amid concerns that, while China’s investments do have the potential to address Africa’s infrastructure and trade gaps, it is also leading to mounting debt. The “debt-trap” diplomacy, as some have called it, is especially acute in nations including Zambia, Djibouti, and the Republic of Congo, according to The China Africa Research Initiative at the Johns Hopkins University. In Congo, the scholars noted, the debt situation was so ambiguous that the president visited Beijing in July 2018 just to clarify what they owed.

Xi’s affirmation of his nation’s commitment comes as observers contend that China is yet to give out all the amounts it has pledged to Africa over the years. Sino-African trade has also cooled in recent years, falling from $220 billion in 2014 to $170 billion in 2017, according to China’s ministry of commerce. With deepening diplomatic, security, and political ties, some have also criticized China’s ever-growing presence in Africa as neo-colonial—a term that South African president Cyril Ramaphosa rejected during the summit.

In his speech, Xi seemed aware of some of these concerns, saying China wanted to build a path “towards prosperity” together with Africa. He even went as far as cautioning against “vanity projects,” saying Chinese finance was targeted at “major bottlenecks to development.”

“China-Africa cooperation must give Chinese and African people tangible benefits and successes that can be seen, that can be felt,” he said.