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Jean-Pierre Cabestan is a Sinologist, Director of Research at CNRS and Associate Researcher at the Asian Center in Paris. Author of a dozen books on China, the most recent of which China Tomorrow: Bora or Peace? (Gallimart, 2020), for the past ten years he has specialized in enhancing Chinese presence in Africa.
The last Forum for Sino-African Cooperation (FOCA), held in Tucker at the end of November, seems to have marked a turning point in the Sino-African relationship with a very cautious financial commitment on Beijing’s part. Have we reached the new stage of China-Africa?
There are many elements of continuity with the previous two summits, with particular emphasis on academic, cultural and security cooperation. But the adjustment is real. All pointed to the reduction of the financial envelope linked to the growing awareness of the problem of debt by African countries towards China. One way is for Beijing to respond to criticism from Africans and G20 members working to restructure developing countries’ debt. But this adjustment is, in general, part of a downward revision of the funds allocated to the “Silk Roads”.
Africa’s debt to China has caused controversy. Do you think this is a “trap” that some Sino-African experts reject?
Since donors are not always mostly Chinese, the title is not personal credit. The real problem is the deepening of the asymmetrical relationship between China and African countries with smaller economies. The latter are multifaceted, which is not only linked to debt but also to an increasingly strong Chinese economic presence.
Didn’t this pro take on a diplomatic form as well?
Yes, and the Covid 19 epidemic has allowed China to advance its troops, especially in the South. We can clearly see the use of Chinese formulas in the question and governance of Uyghurs in Africa, human rights, in Hong Kong, and in Xinjiang, in the press releases published within Focus’ framework. Lack of expertise in China in Africa is a big problem. African leaders often do not know where they are heading or who they are talking to. They did not always realize that their highly organized Leninist regime was imposing its rhetoric on others. Even in pioneer well-fitted countries such as South Africa, excessive critical voices have been rejected.
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