Why Belt and Road Initiative is anything but debt trap

2019-04-14 11:25:42Xinhua Editor : Jing Yuxin ECNS App Download

Almost six years after President Xi Jinping proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the grand vision for promoting common development through better connectivity among countries and regions has been morphing into a solution for speeding up global cooperation for greater prosperity.

This is evidenced by the fact that 125 countries and 29 international organizations have so far signed cooperation agreements with China on jointly building the Belt and Road, according to data published in March on China's official Belt and Road web portal.

But as global enthusiasm for and confidence in the BRI grow, some noises ensue, often with ill intentions to discourage its wide adoption and send misleading messages to nations who seek to benefit from BRI participation. One such message claims that the BRI pushes some countries into a "debt trap."


The situation on the ground, however, has shown that such noises are ill-founded.

Researchers, economists, and policymakers in Africa, a region that has been warned to be wary of a so-called "debt trap" for participating in the BRI, regard such claims as mere negative speculations that seek to undermine the initiative, saying these claims should not be taken seriously.

Firstly, developing countries apparently aspire to improve their dilapidated infrastructure and the BRI well meets such needs.

Taking transport as a key example, Prof. Damian Gabagambi, managing director of Tanzania's National Development Corporation, said the BRI is highly strategic because transport networks in a country are like blood vessels in a human body.

"If the blood vessels are blocked, the whole body would paralyze. Likewise, without an efficient transport network, the economy paralyzes," he said.

"Development of transport network contributes to lower cost of distribution of goods and services among regions and increase in productivity through the availability of access to a diversified set of resources," he said.

In Ethiopia, a new Chinese-built and funded terminal at its capital airport was inaugurated in January this year with an annual capacity to serve about 22 million passengers. It tripled the airport's capacity, contributing to Ethiopia's efforts to become a key aviation hub of the African continent.

In Kenya, the Chinese-built and funded Nairobi-Mombasa railway has ferried more than 2.5 million passengers and nearly 3.9 million tons of cargo since its launch in May 2017. In his State of the Nation Address on April 4, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta praised the grand project, saying it has been listed among the top 13 most magnificent railway tours for 2019.

Developing countries need these, and if China is willing to provide support, it should be a welcomed move, Gabagambi said.

"Accusation by some Western countries of China letting some countries fall into a debt trap due to their cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative is a matter of perception," he added.

Secondly, the so-called debt trap diplomacy language is highly questionable. In fact, taking Africa for instance, its debts owed to China only make up a small share of the total, and such language was highly likely coined by some Western countries that seek to rein in China's growing global role.

Zitto Kabwe, an economics analyst in Tanzania, said between 2000 and 2016, Africa owed China $115 billion which were only 2 percent of loans that Africa owed other foreign countries.

"Why is the world making noise to China with such a minimal amount of debt?" he said.

"It should be remembered that the construction of the Tanzania-Zambia Railway in the 1970s by China was protested by the World Bank and other Western countries. Some quarters claimed that Chinese were invading Tanzania, but to date, we don't see Chinese invading Tanzania," he said.

"I believe that Tanzania and Africa in general should define how their cooperation with China should be. Western countries should stop dictating to Africa how the continent should collaborate with China. This amounts to insulting African countries and it's a continuation of colonial mentality," he said.

Gabagambi said that it is normal for countries to become indebted because countries borrow to finance different development projects. "Fortunately, African countries are not in the list of most indebted countries in the world," he said.


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