As President Xi Jinping gathered together leaders from almost all African countries for a summit in Beijing in recent days, some former Chinese officials and state media were busy mounting an unusually strong defense of China’s role in the continent.
China has long bristled at accusations, mostly from Western nations, that it is solely interested in Africa’s raw materials, and that its no-strings-attached approach to loans and aid has only encouraged graft and brought unsustainably high debt.
At the few news conferences during the summit, African reporters peppered Chinese officials with questions about corruption, environmental problems and concerns about a lack of Africans employed in some of China’s projects.
Cheng Tao, a former head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Africa division and previously China’s ambassador in Mali and Morocco, said it was unfair to blame China for supporting governments accused of corruption.
“An African friend told me, our government is extremely corrupt. How come you’re still involved with them? Our government has asked the Chinese government to build a bridge and a hospital, but the Chinese government shouldn’t help them,” he said, without naming the country.
“I told him – you voted for this government. It’s the only government we can deal with. But the bridge and the hospital are not built for the president or officials, but are for the common people. So I think this is another perspective that can be considered when looking at this issue.”
Of the 10 bottom-ranked countries in last year’s corruption perceptions index by Transparency International, four of them sent their presidents to the summit – Equatorial Guinea, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.
Since Xi took office six years ago, he has mounted war against deeply-ingrained graft in his own country, and the government has been keen to show it is not encouraging similar problems overseas where China in involved.
Liu Guijin, China’s former special envoy to Africa, said China did not want its money frittered away through corruption.
“China’s engagement in Africa is focused on its people and we do not give our money to corrupt governments or officials,” said Liu, who was previously deeply involved in efforts to end Sudan’s civil war and still advises China’s government.
Indeed, a declaration adopted after the summit, released today, said China and Africa would continue to take a “zero tolerance” approach to corruption.
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