China is helping Africa develop, not pile up debt, a top Chinese official said on Tuesday, as the government pushes back against criticism it is loading the continent with an unsustainable burden during a major summit in Beijing.
President Xi Jinping pledged $60 billion to African nations at Monday’s opening of a China-Africa forum on cooperation, matching the size of funds offered at the last summit in Johannesburg in 2015.
A wave of African nations seeking to restructure their debt with China has served as a reality check for Beijing’s ties with the continent, though most of its countries still see Chinese lending as the best bet to develop their economies.
“If we take a closer look at these African countries that are heavily in debt, China is not their main creditor,” its special envoy for Africa, Xu Jinghu, told a news conference.
“It’s senseless and baseless to shift the blame onto China for debt problems.”
As it pushes forward with Xi’s pledge, China will use feasibility studies to select projects that help African countries achieve sustainable development and steer clear of debt or financial woes, she added.
“We need to take into account the fluctuations of the international economic situation, which has raised the cost of financing for these African countries, and most of them depend on exporting raw materials, the price of which, on the international market, has been falling,” said Xu, adding that the overall debt burden had built up over a long time.
China has denied engaging in “debt trap” diplomacy, and Xi said government debt from Chinese interest-free loans due by year-end would be written off for the poorest African nations.
African countries have also been trying to export more finished goods to China, rather than simply raw materials that China then processes.
China and Africa have agreed to work hard to increase Africa’s value-added exports to China, a development welcomed by Beijing, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said.