China cancels Africa’s debt

Leslie Feinberg
Workers World
January 15, 2004
China has cancelled the debts owed to it by 31 African countries. The show of solidarity will give African leaders greater leverage to demand that the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the wealthy finance capitalists in the bastions of imperialism do the same.

In his opening address to a two-day China-Africa conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced on Dec. 15 that his government has fulfilled, ahead of schedule, its debt exemption commitments and cancelled debts totaling $1.27 billion.

Wen Jiabao also promised that China would open its markets to exports from the 34 least developed African countries on a preferential, duty-free basis. The current two-way trade volume between China and Africa is $12 billion annually.

He offered to provide various types of professional training to 10,000 African personnel over the course of the next three years.

Wen Jiabao also said his government will work cooperatively with African countries in the prevention and treatment of AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, in the prevention of natural disasters and in environmental protection. He also proposed a China-Africa Youth Festival and large-scale Africa-themed cultural exchange activities in China next year.

“It is an unshakeable policy of the new Chinese government to strengthen solidarity and cooperation with African countries and other developing nations,” he told those gathered at the Second Ministerial Conference of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum – the first held on the African continent.

The Chinese premier said that his own country’s development problems limited what it could offer, but that China would not impose any political conditions on this assistance.

Twelve African heads of state or government took part in the summit, together with high-level officials from most African states.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi characterized this summit as a landmark in China-Africa relations.

Embattled Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe hailed Beijing’s proposals. To punish Mugabe for standing up to imperialism, the U.S. – and the European Union before it – have levied economic sanctions against Zimbabwe.

Mugabe denounced the “brutal predominance of America, unconditionally supported by Britain, Australia and other nations of Europe recklessly seeking global hegemony under the convenient but false cover of good governance, human rights and democracy.”

He urged African leaders to “turn their backs” on the Western imperial powers and work instead to develop stronger relations with China – a country he said respected African countries.

Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker has been currently making the rounds internationally to try to cajole the leading wealthy imperialist powers in the elite 19-country Paris Club to back reduction of the debt of another country: Iraq. Its debt accumulated when it refused to bow to Washington.

After more than a decade of U.S.-led sanctions, Iraq’s debt to the Paris Club members – including the U.S., Germany, France, Japan and Russia – is about $40 billion. Baker is arguing that other countries should write off much of that debt to aid Iraq’s “reconstruction.” They are reluctant because the lion’s share of the contracts to “rebuild” Iraq are going to U.S. firms.

The reality is that it is the U.S., along with Britain and all the former colonial powers, that owes the peoples of the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America centuries of reparations.

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