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- EU extends feelers to Taiwan
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China was already providing development aid to Africa, back when it was still a poor nation itself. Now China is rich and can afford a correspondingly generous commitment. Europe cannot keep up. European aid is tied to numerous standards – and there is nowhere near as much money available. While it is true that EU member nations have launched counter-projects to the Silk Road Initiative, they “give the impression that it is more about solving their own China problem than Africa’s infrastructure problems,” says our interlocutor Marina Rudyak. The expert on China’s foreign relations reveals Beijing’s real motives ahead of the China-Africa summit.
According to Rudyak, the infamous story of a devious China that lures smaller countries with money and drops them into a trap is a myth. There is actually a growing fear in China of stepping into a “creditor trap”. But one should not be mistaken: Beijing’s strategists are strictly acting under power-political interests when granting loans. The bottom line, however, is that the nations of the Global South benefit from the attention they receive from the economic power.
While China demonstrates openness towards Africa, it systematically seals off Hong Kong – its financial capital. COVID-19 is becoming the go-to excuse to punish the city for its democracy movements. For even individual cases trigger a harsh tightening of isolation mandates. Its economic heart is suffering as a result: the financial sector.
Meanwhile, the Chinese threats against Taiwan are triggering various initiatives in Western countries. EU parliamentarians are planning a trip to Taipei, while Taiwan’s foreign minister was invited to Prague. The US has launched an initiative to restore Taiwan’s greater role at the UN. The government in Taipei is pleased about the idealistic support – but there is a fly in the ointment: all initiatives are uncoordinated and thus remain piecemeal.
‘European Integration’ as Europe’s unique selling point in Africa
Ms. Rudyak, what outcome do you expect from the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) regarding China’s financial commitments to African countries?
I don’t think we will see an increase in China’s lending commitments to African countries. Until 2015, China did increase its pledges each time at FOCAC summits, but since 2018 they have stagnated. At that time, China did pledge the same value as in 2015. That was $60 billion in loans and investments over three years. But the share of gifts and interest-free loans was lower than in 2015, so the package became more expensive for recipients overall. Loan negotiations have also become more stringent since 2018. At the same time, however, I don’t expect commitments to be nominally lower this time around. That would not fit China’s foreign policy rhetoric of helping Africa overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. But the overall structure of its pledges could change significantly.
Over the past 20 years, China has become Africa’s largest donor. Diplomats frequently like to accuse the People’s Republic of using debt to secure strategic access to raw materials and infrastructure, and of resorting to debt-trap diplomacy.