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China rejects Africa ‘debt trap’ claim ahead of U.S.-Africa summit

Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the USA

China’s ambassador to the United States Qin Gang on Monday rejected charges that Beijing had mired African countries in debt during a forum ahead of a U.S.-Africa summit, citing a report that African countries owe three times more debt to Western institutions.

U.S. President Joe Biden is set to host dozens of African leaders for a summit this week in Washington, D.C., to discuss pressing challenges from food security to climate change for the first time since the Obama administration held one in 2014.

“China’s investment and financing assistance to Africa is not a trap. It is a benefit,” Qin told a Semafor news event in Washington.

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He added that African countries should be places for international cooperation, including between China and the United States, for the benefit of Africans, not “geopolitical games.”

Qin cited a July study by the British charity, Debt Justice, that said African countries owed three times more debt to Western institutions than to China.

“China is not the biggest creditor of African debts,” Qin said. “The debt owned by China is only a small amount.”

“You can see hospitals, highways, airports, stadiums,” Qin added, calling for “concrete and workable measures” from the U.S. summit to help Africa.

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Analysts say China remains the biggest bilateral lender to Africa in the past decade, although new loan commitments have declined in recent years.

Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington would have to do things differently to help Africa with its infrastructure needs following the Trump administration’s insulting remarks about African countries. He also said it was time to stop treating the continent as a subject of geopolitics and rather as a major player on its own.

Biden’s foreign policy has emphasized promoting Western countries as a counterweight to China, the United States’ top geopolitical competitor, but U.S. officials have suggested they are not asking African partners to choose between Washington and Beijing

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Monday that 50 invited delegations had confirmed they would take part in the Washington summit – 49 countries and the African Union.

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U.S. officials, which have faced criticism for ignoring Africa, have characterized Chinese lending as “predatory” and leading to potential “debt traps.” The United States is now focusing on facilitating private investment.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves, speaking earlier at the forum, said that China was the largest investor in Africa, and that U.S. companies had not always been interested in engaging in development projects.

“We took our eye off the ball, so to speak, and U.S. investors and companies are having to play catch up,” Graves said.

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