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July 10, 2019

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Belt and Road offers development, not ‘debt trap’

Millions of articles have been written on China-Africa engagement that involve the terms “Sino-optimism,” “Sino-pragmatism” and “Sino-pessimism.” With that said, somehow, China has also been mentioned in some Western media in a negative light, including headlines with phrases such as “Can China circumvent the middle-income trap?” “China’s trapped transition,” “The Thucydides Trap” and the “debt trap.”

As for the debt trap, the term refers to the idea that Chinese loans in the continent of Africa are a strategy by the Middle Kingdom to extract concessions and purchase allegiance. I do not concur! China’s involvement with African nations is far beyond building railways, bridges and roads.

The Chinese development model has already found favor in some East African nations, which have embraced aspects of the model through sizeable Chinese involvement in the region. The development model is typically composed of numerous major ingredients: strategies and subsidies that bolster exports as well as imitating technology and know-how, industrial park investment, investment in manufacturing. All of these could encourage positive spillovers and unlock economic potential in value-adding industries across the region via the complementary nature of trade-facilitating infrastructure and export-oriented industrial zones. These, in turn, go a long way toward eliminating poverty. With that said, the above ingredients are the epitome of catch-up growth that can clarify China’s four decades of economic success, which the Chinese government is sharing with the world under the umbrella of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Under the initiative, China seeks to promote a more connected world, brought together by a web of Chinese-financed physical and digital infrastructure. In the past, Africa was at the mercy of Western imperialist power coupled with their brutal monetary institutions. However, that scenario is changing because the continent of Africa has suddenly found an alternative — China. African nations have been freeing themselves, realizing their various hidden potential, all thanks to the BRI. The BRI is not only about the economy, infrastructure and development; it is also about culture, health, knowledge and the well-being of the people. It aims to link individuals from diverse races, life, philosophies, and beliefs.

Leaders in the West are bothered. Nothing worries the West more than the prospect of losing absolute control over the globe. For the West, it is not about improving the well-being of hundreds of millions of poor people. The West had centuries of total control over the world, and all they did was enrich themselves, especially in Africa. The West believes it is all about “winning or losing,” and maintaining its colonies and “client” nations, by any means.

For China, it is about shared prosperity. The strong belief in China was and will always be: building a better Africa and a better world which believes that if the global economy is doing well, China will flourish as well.

China does not build its prosperity on plunder as the West has been doing for decades. Western headlines might claim that BRI is not perfect and speak of debt trap issues, but on a global scale, the BRI is the best the world has at this time. It has been making headway, week after week and month after month.

BRI can radically lessen the costs of international trade as well as underpin the economic transformation of emerging nations.

A World Bank report asserts that if accompanied by efficiency-bolstering policy reforms, transport costs could drop by a quarter in some BRI countries as a result of the fact that infrastructure has a significant multiplier effect. Due to the multiplier effect, large-scale infrastructure programs have been launched in all East African nations as an essential part of long-term development plans outlined by the government, to inject economic vitality into the region’s economy. As such, the BRI is not a “debt trap” that nations may fall into, but economic vitality that can inject much longed for economic prosperity into all participating nations’ economy.

The author is executive director of the Center for Nigerian Studies at the Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University. The article was first published in the People’s Daily online.


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