DAKAR, (Reuters) – China’s President Xi Jinping pledged during a visit to Senegal on Saturday to strengthen economic ties with Africa, a continent already awash with cheap Chinese loans in exchange for minerals and huge construction projects.
Xi arrived in Senegal on Saturday for a two-day visit to sign bilateral deals, the first leg of an Africa tour that will also take him to Rwanda and South Africa, the latter for a summit of BRICS countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
China now does more trade with Africa than any other nation does, and its consistent overtures to the continent contrast sharply with the United States, whose President Donald Trump has shown little interest in it.
The visit was Xi’s first trip to West Africa as president, but his fourth to Africa, he told a joint press conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall after their third ever meeting.
“Every time I come to Africa, I have seen the dynamism of the continent and the aspirations of its people for development,” Xi said. “I am very confident in the future of Sino-African relations.”
Africa is in the midst of a boom in infrastructure projects, managed and cheaply financed by China, part of Xi’s “Belt and Road” initiative to build a transport network connecting China by land and sea to Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
China has pledged $126 billion for the plan, which has been praised by its supporters as a source of vital financing for the developing world. In Senegal, Chinese loans have financed a highway linking the capital Dakar to Touba, its second main city, and part of an industrial park on the Dakar peninsula.
China’s ambassador to Senegal Zhang Xun was quoted by the local press in March as saying China had invested $100 million in Senegal in 2017.
But critics say Africa is loading itself up on Chinese debt that it may struggle to repay, with estimates ranging in the tens of billions of dollars, which could leave African nations with no choice but to hand over controlling stakes in strategic assets to the Chinese state.
U.S. officials have warned that a port in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, a host to major U.S. and French military bases, could suffer this fate, although Djibouti rejects the fear.
In Guinea, meanwhile, one of the world’s poorest nations, China is lending $20 billion to the government in exchange for aluminium ore concessions.