China should reform its massive assistance measures for Africa

The Yomiuri ShimbunHow should sustainable development be realized in Africa, a continent rich in natural resources and whose population is growing fast? What is called for is assistance that will not end up only pouring in a huge amount of money, but that can also help recipient countries enhance their ability to govern and nurture human resources.

The summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, attended by the leaders of 53 African countries, was held in Beijing. The forum started in 2000 as a ministerial-level meeting and has been held regularly.

Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged that China will extend financing totaling $60 billion (about ¥6.6 trillion) in the next three years. He spelled out a policy of continuing to advance the provision of financing, and investment by Chinese companies, for the development of key African infrastructure, including in energy and airports.

Xi’s remarks that China takes such approaches as “no interference in African countries’ internal affairs,” and “no attachment of political strings to assistance,” are problematic.

Unlike countries in Europe and North America, China’s assistance to developing countries is characterized by its not demanding that the partner country democratize itself or improve its human rights situation. Even if such assistance is welcomed by a despotic administration, it will not lead to improvement in people’s lives nor to the country’s economic self-sustenance.

It has been pointed out that there have been many cases in Africa in which Chinese companies that have received an order for a project there dispatch workers from China, creating no jobs for local people.

Another cause for concern is a “debt trap,” where a country receiving Chinese assistance falls into excessive debt and as a consequence is forced to cede the rights to use a port, for instance. If China uses that port for military purposes, it may have an adverse impact on regional security.

Find ways to cooperate

Wary voices have begun to be heard in African countries, worrying that the country will become deeply entangled in debt with Chinese-style assistance, which will give China more political clout. International criticism has also been growing.

During the summit, Xi presented a policy of China exempting some African countries from the debt they have incurred in the form of Chinese government loans. He also emphasized that China will cooperate with African countries to improve the environment and public health of its partner countries. Xi may have had to take the criticism into consideration.

Before China, Japan began holding from 1993 the summit-level Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). In the previous meeting held in 2016, Japan promised investment totaling $30 billion over the following three years.

Japan attaches importance to carrying out infrastructure development with its advanced technology and extending meticulously worked-out assistance to nurture experts. There are likely many elements of Japan’s assistance that China should adopt in its own.

Japan, which is not as strong as China in terms of financial power, is avoiding excessive rivalry with China over winning orders, while also exploring ways to cooperate with that country. Japan is calling on China to participate in Japan-led projects, such as one to build major roads linking West African countries.

Through the promotion of joint endeavors, Japan should encourage China, for instance, to improve the transparency of the projects that it is carrying out in various parts of the world, and to abide by investment rules.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 9, 2018)Speech


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