How is China going to handle debt relief in Africa?


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With economic conditions across Africa rapidly deteriorating, leaders across the continent are escalating their calls for the international community to provide emergency debt relief. Until this week, though, those appeals have been broadly targeted, not singling out any particular country or creditor. 

But that changed on Monday when Ghanaian Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta specifically named China. “African debt to China is $145 billion or so, over $8 billion of payments is required this year,” he said during an online video discussion with the Washington, D.C.–based Center for Global Development. “So that needs to be looked at,” he added.

The following day, Ofori-Atta’s comments were raised at the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s regular press briefing in Beijing, where spokesman Zhao Lijian said discussions are now underway with African governments.

So now the more pressing question is what will Chinese debt relief in Africa look like? Anti-debt campaigners like the Jubilee Debt Campaign and certainly some African governments are advocating for Beijing to cancel the debt in Africa. Experts, though, say if China’s past record is anything to go by, then that is highly unlikely.

Agatha Kratz, associate director at the New York–based independent research firm Rhodium Group, and her colleague Matthew Mingey, a research analyst there, closely follow Chinese lending practices around the world, including in Africa. Both are confident that China will likely enact some form of debt relief for the continent, but, like everyone else, they are unclear as to how far the Chinese plan to go.

Agatha and Matthew join Eric and Cobus to discuss the debt crisis in Africa and possible scenarios for how the Chinese may respond.