Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged debt relief to some poorer African nations, attempting to push back against a major criticism of his signature Belt and Road Initiative.
Speaking to the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation on Monday in Beijing, Xi defended the global program to develop roads, railways, ports, pipelines and other trade links. China planned to exempt some African countries from interest-free loans due by the end of the year, Xi said, adding that the relief would be granted to unspecified poor and heavily indebted countries.
He also announced an additional $60bn of loans and other financing to follow on a similar amount promised three years ago. The package includes $20bn of credit lines; $15bn of grants, interest-free loans and concessional loans; $10bn for a special fund; and $5bn to support imports from Africa.
“We will fully honor the promises we have made to our African brothers,” Xi told the gathering. Among those present were South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
In recent months, Beijing has faced criticism about its debt practices from countries ranging from Australia to India, with even some Chinese academics airing doubts at home. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad warned against “a new version of colonialism” during a visit to Beijing last month after suspending a $20bn Chinese-built rail project.
Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, said Xi emphasised both inclusiveness and a desire to ensure projects are viable.
“The reason behind these changes is that China’s economy is facing new difficulties, China’s accumulating lessons in Africa and absorbing some external criticism,” Shi said.
Loans and local labour
While Beijing-backed investment has provided African governments much-needed infrastructure without the West’s political and fiscal demands, it has also generated complaints about China’s preference for loans and reluctance to use local labor. Such concerns have grown as Xi extended his Belt and Road plan across much of the globe and tied it to his ambition of completing his country’s return to great power status.
The White House has called such infrastructure initiatives a challenge to its influence, and is discussing greater infrastructure investment in the Asia-Pacific region with Australia and Japan, although sources of funding remain uncertain.
Africa is a vital front in Xi’s fight against such skepticism, receiving $12bn of Chinese lending in 2015, compared with just over $100m in 2000, according to data from the China-Africa Research Initiative. Ongoing Chinese-backed investments range from Ivory Coast power plants to a Rwandan airport to a railway in Kenya.
Africa includes some of China’s largest suppliers of oil and other commodities, and the tiny nation of Djibouti hosts its first overseas military base. Total trade between China and the continent’s nations rose 14% last year to $170bn, according to Chinese data.
In his speech, Xi promised to continue what he called a “five-no” approach for African nations, including not altering developmental paths, not interfering in their affairs, not imposing China’s will, not attaching “strings” to financial assistance, and not seeking political gain.
At a business event ahead of the summit, Xi said China had “full respect for Africa’s own will” and wasn’t interested in forming an “exclusive club”.
“China’s cooperation with Africa is clearly targeted at the major bottlenecks to development,” he added. “Resources for our cooperation are not to be spent on any vanity projects, but in places where they count the most.
Germany Hosts Summit On Peace, Politics In Libya
Leaders from 12 countries met in Germany on Sunday, in hopes of laying a foundation for a lasting cease-fire, between Libya’s rival governments.
German chancellor Angela Merkel invited to the summit world leaders, as well as representatives from the united nations, the European Union, the African Union, and the Arab League. Libya’s two main rival leaders, former general Khalifa Haftar and Fayez Sarraj, were also present.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who support Haftar and Sarraj respectively, spoke before the summit on Sunday, with Erdogan calling for Haftar to abandon what he called a “hostile attitude.”
Turkey and Russia helped broker a fragile cease-fire in Libya which took effect last week, but both sides have accused one another of breaking it.
The leaders made a commitment at the summit to curb continued foreign interference in the conflict.
U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who also attended, emphasized, before the summit started, “the need for a lasting ceasefire, a return to a U.N.-facilitated political process, and the end of all foreign intervention in Libya.”
Internet Slows Across Africa As Major Undersea Cables Falter
Some millions of Africans have been experiencing extremely slow internet connectivity since late last week.
The problem is caused by cuts to two major undersea cables along the west African coast. A fault developed by the West Africa Cable System, WACS, has caused major telecom companies and internet service providers to lose connectivity.
Countries across the west, central and southern African coast have been suffering slow internet connectivity since Thursday. Reports say even some mobile phone users are affected as well.
The WACS connects parts of the continent to the United Kingdom, and the South Atlantic submarine cable, which extends as far as to Portugal and Spain.
Openserve, the company that operates these cables, said in a statement on Thursday, there is reduced speed on international browsing, international voice calling and mobile roaming.
The company has called on clients to be patient, because undersea cable infrastructure repairs are complex, and can be time-consuming. Services are affected in Ghana, Cameroon, The Republic of the Congo, Angola, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and parts of South Africa.
Son Of Noted Muslim Preacher Shot In South Africa
In the coastal city of Durban on Wednesday, a South African activist and son of a deceased prominent Muslim preacher is fighting for his life in a hospital after he was shot outside a court.
65-year-old Yousuf Deedat – son of Sheikh Ahmed Deedat – was shot in the head as he walked towards the Verulam family court on the outskirts of Durban with his wife, Police colonel Thembeka Mbele said.
Deedat was rushed to a hospital for medical attention after an unknown suspect who fled in a car in an unknown direction opened fire, shooting him in the head.
On Wednesday, Deedat’s family said in a statement that “he is in critical condition in a local hospital. While his injuries remain severe, we remain hopeful for Deedat’s recovery.”
Yousuf’s father, Sheikh, who died in 2005 was known across the world as a respected public speaker and writer who published several widely-distributed booklets on Islam and Christianity.
Sheikh was a prominent South African Muslim missionary who held several interfaith public debates with evangelical Christians. He was the founder of the Islamic Propagation Centre International, which aims for Islam to be heard and understood across the world.
Police said they were still investigating the reason behind his shooting.
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