What is China’s decision on Africa’s debt?

Africa's yearning for debt relief from the world's most economically advanced nations may soon be granted given indications that the…

Africa’s yearning for debt relief from the world’s most economically advanced nations may soon be granted given indications that the rampaging coronavirus may cause a change of heart from Beijing.Successive African governments had requested China and Western nations to ease the debt burden on the continent which needs huge resources to tackle the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

At least 20 African countries benefitted from loan clemencies by China which accounts for one third of the continent’s sovereign debt.

Wang’s statement about easing Africa’s debt may have come weeks after countries on the continent requested for it, but may still be music to the ear of African countries when the world’s second most powerful economy China announced plans to ease their debt burdens and reopen businesses to sustain the economic momentum genuinely threatened by Covid-19.

The announcement was made by Wang Yi, Chinese state councilor and Foreign Minister, during a press conference held recently regarding China-Africa relations.

Researches suggest that African countries owe China over $40 billion by 2016.

This figure has increased in the course of the last four years, causing widespread criticism of China’s so-called debt-trap diplomacy with Africans.

This theory presupposes that China provides sometimes unlimited lines of credit to the continent’s debtor nations with the calculated aim of securing economic or even political concessions from those countries in exchange for their inability to pay up their debt to the Asian. 

Although this has been found to be a rare occurrence, the seizure of assets may result in the event debtor nations could not honour their debts to China. 

But in 2019, a research paper by Professor Deborah Bautigam of the John Hopkins University picked holes into the debt-trap diplomacy theory involving China by stating categorically that debtor countries have had most positive developments from the experience.  

And the head of Chinese diplomacy said his country will work with other G20 members to implement the debt service suspension initiative to ease Africa’s debt burden.

Incidentally, other countries making up the G20 have not unilaterally announced any comprehensive post-Covid-19 plan for Africa.

Wang said his country will work out ways to move ahead with ongoing major cooperation projects and support African countries in resuming interrupted businesses.

If the words of Wang are anything to go, China is also considering further bilateral support for African countries under the greatest strain from coronavirus to help people on the continent through these torrid times.

“We will continue to stand by Africa as it fights the virus. We will send anti-epidemic assistance to African and other developing countries as a matter of priority. We are considering sending more medical expert teams to the continent,” he said.

Wang also appreciated messages of solidarity during the COVID-19 pandemic from African leaders.

Despite some sense of outrage over the alleged mistreatment of Africans in China, relations between the continent and the Asian giant have weathered the diplomatic storm. 

Over 50 African leaders have expressed solidarity and support in phone calls or public statements to Beijing during the worst days of the coronavirus outbreak in China where the pandemic began last December and spread to the rest of the world.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and Wang believes that relations with the continent have stood the test of time and continue to flourish.

China will continue to deliver on the health initiative announced at the FOCAC Beijing Summit and accelerate construction of the Africa CDC headquarters, and help boost public health capacity in African nations, he said.