MOMBASA, KENYA — Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday dismissed suggestions that Beijing was luring African countries into a debt trap by offering them massive loans, dismissing the idea as a “narrative” pushed by opponents to the fight against poverty.
Wang, speaking before visiting Beijing-funded infrastructure projects in Kenya, said China’s large loans to Africa are “mutually beneficial” and not a strategy to force diplomatic and trade concessions.
“It’s just not a fact. It’s speculation played out by some with ulterior motives,” he told reporters in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa.
“It is a narrative created by those who do not want to see development in Africa. If there is a trap, it is that of poverty and underdevelopment,” he said through an interpreter.
Wang’s three-country tour of Eritrea, Kenya and the Comoros follows a trip by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Africa in November, aimed in part to counter China’s growing influence on the continent.
China is Africa’s largest trading partner, with direct trade worth more than $200 billion in 2019, according to official Chinese figures.
China is Kenya’s second largest lender after the World Bank and has funded a number of expensive infrastructure projects, raising fears that Nairobi is taking on more debt than it can afford.
In Mombasa, Wang held a closed-door meeting with a team of government ministers and signed agreements on trade and investment, health, security, climate change and green technology transfer.
He then met President Uhuru Kenyatta and traveled to the port of Mombasa, where China is building a new $353 million terminal to allow larger tankers to dock.
“This visit testifies to the deepening of relations between the two countries,” said Kenyan Foreign Minister Raychelle Omamo.
Beijing has funded Kenya’s most expensive infrastructure project since independence, lending $5 billion to build a railway line from Mombasa, which opened in 2017.
During a visit to Mombasa in January 2020, Wang described the railway as a “benchmark” of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a $1 trillion effort to improve links trade in the world by building pioneering infrastructures.
But observers have raised red flags over Kenya’s reliance on Chinese funding, warning that debt is reaching unmanageable levels.
Aly-Khan Satchu, a Kenyan geopolitical and economic analyst, said the East African nation is at a disadvantage when negotiating deals and is often stuck with high-yield repayments.
“These investments will not be profitable for the foreseeable future,” he told AFP.
“They’ve taken out these loans and they’re making losses every month. They’re basically making the problems worse.”
Lending from Beijing has slowed in recent years as borrowers pushed back on terms and the coronavirus pandemic caused economic hardship.
Satchu said China was focusing on infrastructure towards more trade and saw promise in deepening ties with Indian Ocean economies.
“The Chinese are trying to recalibrate their relationship with Africa, emphasizing agriculture and lending to the private sector,” he said.
Wang has previously visited Eritrea and after Kenya, is traveling to the island state of Comoros in the Indian Ocean.