China to pump $60bn into Africa, won’t meddle in Politics

Africa’s Big Brother, or so it would seem as China looks to solidify its relationship by announcing a $60bn injection into local development projects. This is almost double the amount China has previously invested into the continent, a tenth of which has been proposed for South Africa. Some may ask at what cost? Chinese leader Xi Jinping says it won’t lead them to interfere in local politics, something Western nations query as they turn a blind eye against conflicts and rights abuses in certain regions. But one can’t accurately forecast the future and this may change. China is currently Africa’s largest trading partner and given the lack of economic growth which is needed to fund its own development, the investment will be a welcome relief. – Stuart Lowman

By Joe Brock and Stella Mapenzauswa

JOHANNESBURG, Dec 4 (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping told African leaders on Friday his country would pump $60 billion into development projects, cancel some debt and boost agriculture under a three-year plan that will extend Beijing’s influence in the continent.

Xi also said China would not interfere in African countries’ internal affairs, a stance that drew strong applause from leaders such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe who have faced strong Western criticism of their human rights record.

China's President Xi Jinping (L) shakes hands with Zimbabwe's President (R) Robert Mugabe while South Africa's President Jacob Zuma looks on during a Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Sandton, Johannesburg, December 4, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
China’s President Xi Jinping (L) shakes hands with Zimbabwe’s President (R) Robert Mugabe while South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma looks on during a Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Sandton, Johannesburg, December 4, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

But China too has irked some Africans in the past for using Chinese firms and labour to build state-funded roads and railways in Africa while buying up commodities and leaving little for local economies, an image Xi is keen to change during a two-day conference in South Africa that ends on Saturday.

“To ensure the successful implementation of these 10 cooperation plans, China has decided to provide a total of $60 billion of funding support,” Xi told the summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.

“These plans (are) aimed at addressing three issues holding back Africa’s development, namely inadequate infrastructure, lack of professional and skilled personnel and funding shortages,” said Xi, who this week also visited Zimbabwe.

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Despite its own slowing economy, Xi said China would step up investment in factories manufacturing goods for export in Africa, in addition to building roads, ports and railways on a continent long seen as a major commodities source for China.

South African President Jacob Zuma, co-chair along with Xi of the summit, said African countries needed Chinese help to process their abundant natural resources, which he said had made the continent vulnerable to exploitation in the past.

“That way what is buried in the belly of the soil will translate into benefit for the bellies of our citizens,” Zuma said.

China is Africa’s largest trading partner and the trade volume between them amounted to $220 billion in 2014, according to China state news agency Xinhua.

Its investments in Africa amounted to $32.4 billion at the end of 2014, according to London-based BMI Research.

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No Meddling In Local Politics

Chinese influence is broadly seen by Africans as a healthy counterbalance to the West, though Western governments accuse China of turning a blind eye to conflicts and rights abuses as they pursue trade and aid policies there.

Sticking to that Chinese tradition of non-interference in local politics, Xi said on Friday: “China strongly believes Africa belongs to the African people and African problems should be handled by the African people.”

Mugabe, whose government signed 10 economic accords with China this week including on expanding Zimbabwe’s largest thermal power plant, praised Beijing’s role in Africa, contrasting it favourably with that of Western nations.

“Here is a man (Xi) representing a country once called poor. A country which never was our coloniser … He is doing to us what we expected those who colonised us yesterday to do,” said Mugabe, who is also chairman of the African Union, to loud applause by the delegates.

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In his speech, Xi said China would cancel existing debts with zero interest loans for least developed countries that mature by the end of 2015. He did not elaborate.

African countries were expected to push for loan moratoriums following weak metal and crude prices that have weakened their currencies.

Xi announced plans to help African countries improve agriculture through large-scale farming and fight diseases by establishing an African Centre for Disease Control, adding that China had also helped fight an Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The Chinese leader Xi also vowed greater cooperation with African countries in the fight against violent extremism and said its troops would take part in U.N. peacekeeping forces on the continent.

An attack last month by Islamist militants in Mali killed 19 people, including three Chinese citizens.