China–Africa relations are experiencing a number of misconceptions that need to be addressed. For instance, there are concerns over a potential debt trap stemming from Chinese loans to fund infrastructure development in Africa.
Moreover, it has been claimed those loans to African countries as well as investments, often include bribes to obtain access to oil and other mineral resources.
This is a serious misrepresentation. Oil and minerals in Africa have long been under the control of Western companies. And China's oil imports from Africa make up only 20 percent of its total oil imports. Besides, China has agreed with its partners on an approach of exchanging "resources for development", where it helps countries it imports oil from to build infrastructure.
Indeed, infrastructure development is a key factor for the development of Africa, as stated in the African Union Agenda 2063, The Africa We Want.
So, please let me dwell a little bit on this, by quoting the African Union itself:
Agenda 2063 emphasizes the need for integration as one of the key foundations for ensuring that Africa achieves its goals for inclusive and sustainable growth and development. And Aspiration 2 of Agenda 2063 places importance on the need for Africa to develop world class infrastructure that crisscrosses Africa and which will improve connectivity through newer and bolder initiatives to link the continent by rail, road, sea and air; and developing regional and continental power pools, as well as information, communication and technology.
Therefore, the priority Africa is giving to its infrastructure development is not misplaced. When we look at China, we realize that its rapid social and economic development is based on massive investment in its infrastructure, the same way Africa is doing today.
However, we need to take a closer look on the modalities in which such development is taking place, so as to avoid the creation of winners and losers, or a perception of that.
For instance, the Belt and Road Initiative, a remarkable infrastructure development at global level, which aims to connect the world through railways, roads, tunnels, ports and other infrastructure projects, far from being hailed as an outstanding achievement capable of bringing about enhanced global trade, investment and socioeconomic development, is wrongly viewed or perceived by some as an effort to define and strengthen Chinese spheres of influence and dominance around the world.
This is a terrible misconception that is reinforced by the wrong assumption that only Chinese goods and services will be moved through the Belt and Road Initiative, or non-Chinese goods, mainly minerals, oil and other raw materials heading to China, while in fact goods and services would freely roam through the envisaged initiative, regardless of coming from or heading to China.
Also, there have been academic and political claims about what is commonly known as the Chinese land-grab in Africa. It is being argued that China is using its influence on the continent to acquire land without taking into consideration the impact of such land acquisition on people's lives.
Indeed, skeptics do not believe that China's relations with Africa are based and guided by a win-win political and socioeconomic trajectory. The overall objective of their campaigns is to tarnish China–Africa relations which have existed and positively evolved since the days of the liberation struggles on the continent.
The falsified land grab discourse and the fear of exploitation are meant to change the positive narrative of Sino-Afro relations, for the benefit of those who are afraid of a developed African continent, living in peace and harmony. There's therefore an imperative to study these issues, so that they do not negatively impact the flourishing China–Africa relations.
Despite criticisms about the way China is conducting some projects in Africa, it is clear that their development on the basis of win-win cooperation paradigm have the potential of addressing the current social and economic stratification, which is the major source of instability and inequity on the continent.
China–Africa relations have been increasingly successful because they are based on mutual understanding and respect, as well as advancing the common interests of both parties. Indeed, what China is doing in Africa is what the continent asks for.
While some Western partners have been mostly vocal on social and political issues, as well as human rights, without doing enough to address their root causes, which include abject poverty, China has agreed with Africa to concentrate their combined efforts in areas of great interest for the development of Africa, such as business partnerships, complementarity, investment, trade and infrastructure development, which in a way address in practical terms the issue of human rights. Significantly, these areas of partnership are proposed by the Africans themselves, rather than being imposed by China.
These areas are critical for a win-win engagement because they help Africans address poverty, underdevelopment and inequity prevailing in their countries, by unlocking the potential of the rural economy and connecting it to the urban markets, thus ensuring prosperity for the population.
In addition, the China–Africa partnership, by focusing in issues of economic development and complementarity, propels trade between the parties, thus playing a major role to Africa's integration in the global markets, as well as advancing social and economic development in the continent.
The China–Africa relationship has a long history and the reforms that are in progress in both China and Africa will, in my view, push these relations to a higher platform, with clear mutual benefits. Therefore, it is important for China to support Africa in the implementation of its 2063 Agenda, in the understanding that a prosperous African continent will be a big contribution to world peace and stability.
China–Africa diplomatic and political relations are very strong and reaching the highest possible ceiling. Our collective challenge is to push our cultural, economic and social relations to the same level, to fully realize the aspirations of our peoples.
People-to-people exchanges, by fostering coexistence, by building and reinforcing mutual understanding, knowledge, respect and trust amongst peoples of different cultures, will play a major role in elevating further the already strong relations between China and Africa.
(The author is a former president of the Republic of Mozambique and chairperson of the International Advisory Committee of the China–Africa Institute.)
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