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China Says No to Writing Off Africa’s Belt and Road Debts

A Chinese commerce ministry official asserted on Thursday that writing off onerous African debts to Beijing under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in response to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic would be “not simple nor effective.”

The article, appearing in the Communist Party newspaper the Global Times, appeared to be a response to calls this week for wealthy nations to suspend Africa’s debt payments until the end of the year, as the world faces a possible financial recession due to economic shutdowns caused by the Wuhan coronavirus.

Indebted African countries have been hit especially hard by the current economic slowdown “due to plummeting oil and commodity prices and weaker currencies, which ramp up external debt servicing costs,” according to a Reuters report on Monday. Some African nations may see as many as 20 million jobs lost as a result of the pandemic. On Wednesday, the Group of 20 (G20) economies, including China, the United States, India, and others, offered to suspend Africa’s debt payments until the end of 2020.

However, on Thursday, Ministry of Commerce official Song Wei – identified officially as “deputy director at the Ministry of Commerce’s Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation” – wrote that China should not write off African nations’ debt as international financial institutions have recommended, claiming such measures were “not effective.”

“The whole world is facing mounting pressure on pandemic prevention and consequent economic contraction as the novel [Wuhan] coronavirus ripples across the planet,” Song said. “China, as a creditor of some African countries, has been called upon to offer debt relief which actually is not simple nor effective.”
China is not just a creditor to “some” African countries; it is the single largest creditor to the African continent.
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