Chinese president Xi offers another $60bn to Africa, but says no to ‘vanity’ projects

Government debt from China’s interest free loans due by the end of 2018 will be written off for indebted poor African countries, Chinese President Xi Jinping said. (Reuters)
Updated 03 September 2018
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Chinese president Xi offers another $60bn to Africa, but says no to ‘vanity’ projects

BEIJING: Chinese President Xi Jinping offered another $60 billion in financing for Africa on Monday and wrote off some debt for poorer African nations, while warning against funds going toward “vanity projects.”
Speaking at the opening of a major summit with African leaders, Xi promised development that people on the continent could see and touch, but that would also be green and sustainable.
China has denied engaging in “debt trap” diplomacy, and Xi’s offer of more money comes after a pledge of another $60 billion at the previous summit in South Africa three years ago.
Xi, addressing leaders at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, said the new $60 billion will include $15 billion of aid, interest-free loans and concessional loans, a credit line of $20 billion, a $10 billion special fund for China-Africa development, and a $5 billion special fund for imports from Africa.
Chinese companies will be encouraged to invest no less than $10 billion in the continent in the next three years, he said.
Government debt from China’s interest free loans due by the end of 2018 will be written off for indebted poor African countries, as well as for developing nations in the continent’s interior and small island nations, Xi said.
“China-Africa cooperation must give Chinese and African people tangible benefits and successes that can be seen, that can be felt,” he said.
China will carry out 50 projects on green development and environmental protection in Africa, focusing on fighting climate change, desertification and wildlife protection, Xi said.
He pledged, without giving details, that China would set up a peace and security fund and a related forum, while continuing to provide free military assistance to the African Union.
Chinese officials have vowed to be more cautious to ensure projects are sustainable. China defends continued lending to Africa on the grounds that the continent still needs debt-funded infrastructure development.
Speaking earlier at a business forum, Xi said China had to be careful about where money was spent.
“China’s cooperation with Africa is clearly targeted at the major bottlenecks to development. Resources for our cooperation are not to be spent on any vanity projects but in places where they count the most,” he said.
Beijing has also fended off criticism it is only interested in resource extraction to feed its own booming economy, that the projects it funds have poor environmental safeguards, and that too many of the workers for them are flown in from China rather than using African labor.
Chinese officials say this year’s summit will strengthen Africa’s role in Xi’s Belt and Road initiative to link China by sea and land with Southeast and Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa through an infrastructure network modelled on the old Silk Road.
Xi said the plan, for which Beijing has pledged $126 billion, would help provide more resources and facilities for Africa and would expand shared markets.
China loaned around $125 billion to the continent from 2000 to 2016, data from the China-Africa Research Initiative at Washington’s Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies shows.
State media has accused the West of sour grapes over China’s prominent role in Africa and has angrily rejected claims of forcing African countries into a debt trap.
“In terms of cooperation with China, African countries know best,” widely read tabloid the Global Times wrote in an editorial on Monday.
“Western media deliberately portray Africans in misery for collaborating with China and they appear to have discovered big news by finding occasional complaints in the African media about Sino-Africa cooperation,” it said.
Every African country is represented at the business forum apart from eSwatini, self-ruled Taiwan’s last African ally that has so far rejected China’s overtures to ditch Taipei and recognize Beijing.
African presidents in attendance include South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Zambia’s Edgar Lungu and Gabon’s Ali Bongo.
There are some controversial guests.
Sudan President Omar Al-Bashir, who has been in power for nearly 30 years, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes over killings and persecution in Sudan’s Darfur province between 2003 and 2008.
Xi told him on Sunday that “foreign forces” should not interfere in Sudan’s internal affairs, China’s Foreign Ministry said. China is not a party to the court.
“China has always had reservations about the International Criminal Court’s indictment and arrest order against Sudan’s president. We hope the ICC can prudently handle the relevant issue,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.


Can green investment help relaunch Germany’s economy?

Updated 54 min 58 sec ago

Can green investment help relaunch Germany’s economy?

  • The German government has so far shown little willingness to change its stance

FRANKFURT, Germany: A recession looms for Germany and the European Central Bank is pleading for governments to spend more to revitalize economic growth. Yet despite having the luxury of borrowing money for less than nothing, the German government is keeping a tight rein on its finances.
A debate over Germany’s devotion to budget austerity is intensifying as the outlook for the economy dims and public pressure grows to address big issues such as global warming. On Friday, the government will unveil a raft of measures that could include billions in incentives and spending to make the economy more environmentally-friendly.
“The call for fiscal stimulus has never been louder,” said Carsten Brzeski, chief economist for the bank ING Germany. “And this week will show whether the eurozone country with the deepest pockets finally plans to empty them.”
The slowdown in growth across Europe, blamed largely on the US-China trade conflict and uncertainty about Brexit, is putting a sharp focus on Germany’s devotion to the so-called “Schwarze Null,” or “black zero,” which refers to the policy of balancing the budget — the zero — with at least a small surplus to keep it in the black.
The debate over government spending policy affects the entire 19-country eurozone, since more government outlays by Germany and other fiscally sound countries such as the Netherlands could help support growth by building new infrastructure, such as roads, rail lines or high-speed Internet, or by gathering less in taxes.
The German government has so far shown little willingness to change its stance. It has ignored repeated pleas from the head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, who said last week it was “high time” for government spending to take over as the main tool of economic policy. The central bank announced interest rate cuts and bond purchases in an attempt to ward off a downturn.
The government argues it’s important to reduce debt while the economy is growing and not to burden future generations. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz submitted a balanced draft budget of 360 billion euros ($400 billion) for 2020 last week and Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech before the German Taxpayers’ Federation that the government was sticking to its balanced budget, “not as a goal in itself, as we are often accused of doing, but because clear economic reasons and fairness aspects argue for that.”
Merkel noted that Germany’s total debt would fall below 60% of gross domestic product — the limit for countries that use the euro — for the first time since 2002. The German constitution itself sharply limits deficits to 0.35% of GDP except in a crisis, yet the government’s surpluses go well beyond that requirement.
While the German government may not be giving up on balanced budgets, there are signs it is at least easing up the zeal with which it amasses surpluses.
Last year’s surplus of 1.9% of GDP has fallen to 1.4% this year and is expected to hit 0.9% next year — meaning that the government is already providing some fiscal stimulus. Germany’s economy shrank 0.1% in the second quarter and underlying figures are pointing to another quarter of contraction, which would put the country in a technical recession.
It is striking that the government refuses any new borrowing at a time when it can do so at negative interest rates — meaning it would get paid back more than it borrows. German 10-year bonds currently yield minus 0.48%, and the government was able to sell a 30-year bond at a negative interest rate in August.
Marcel Fratscher, the head of the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin, has called the balanced budget a “false fetish.” His institute has argued that Germany needs to invest in long-term modernization projects such as extending digital services in rural areas.
The president of the Federation of German Industries, Dieter Kempf, said in an interview with Der Spiegel that “it’s worth considering sensible use of the space,” allowed by the constitution to fund more investment.
The calls to spend are not coming only from those concerned about the economy, but also climate activists who say more needs to be done to shift the world economy from carbon-intensive industries and consumption. Public pressure has only grown after the country witnessed its hottest summer on record and the opposition Greens party made big gains in elections to the European Parliament and in domestic polls.
On Friday, the government is expected to unveil a package of incentives aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from homes and autos so that Germany can meet its goals under the 2015 Paris climate accord. Possible measures include incentives to replace old heating systems or to purchase battery-powered autos. A report in Die Welt newspaper said the government was considering measures totaling some 40 billion euros ($44 billion) through 2023.
Brzeski said such a program “would not be enough to stop the slide of the economy toward recessionary territory, but it could be an important cornerstone in Germany’s recovery and its quest for a new economic model.”
Spending on that level would only be “a slow-motion stimulus” since it will take time to roll out, said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg bank.
“It will add up over time and support domestic demand,” he said. “However, the German stimulus will not be a European, let alone a global, game changer.”