Sunday, August 12, 2018

China's Belt and Road Initiative: Is Africa's Role Any Clearer?

The China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) has just published a policy brief titled "Silk Road to the Sahel: African Ambitions in China's Belt and Road Initiative" by Yunnan Chen, PhD candidate at SAIS.

The author argues that the BRI signifies a shift in China's economic engagement with Africa, away from the resource trade that characterized the boom of the 2000s, towards a greater emphasis on infrastructure, industrial cooperation and connectivity. East and North Africa have been the focus of the BRI in Africa, though countries in West and Southern Africa have also signed cooperation agreements. The rapid expansion of debt-financed infrastructure projects raises economic risks.

In my view, it is not yet clear that China is moving away from the resource trade with Africa and focusing on infrastructure development. China has been doing both of these throughout the 21st century and continues both emphases. There has been a greater, but still modest, effort to support African industry. The steady buildup of debt-financed infrastructure projects is also beginning to raise questions about debt repayment ability in some African countries. With each new BRI announcement, it seems that it is becoming a global initiative well beyond the traditional Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road. At some point, it will lose its meaning if it has not already done so.

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