Even though Botswana has not signed China’s most decorated Belt and Road Initiative agreement (BRI), this will not have any effects on the two countries enjoying an improvement in strained relations Chinese envoy has assured. The Botswana and China relations have improved during President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s administration having visited the communist country in 2018 ostensibly to mend fences after his predecessor Ian Khama stoke the fires by recognising spiritual leader Dalai Lama creating tensions with Beijing.
The Belt and Road Initiative, which aims at enhancing connectivity in policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people-to-people ties in the world by improving connectivity between countries has been met with a lot of criticism in the past with many calling it a “debt trap” for developing countries. The initiative was one of the major highlights during Chinese President’s Xi Jinpin speech at a recently held Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against COVID-19 that was attended by various African leaders via a video link. At the backdrop of the Summit, Chinese ambassador to Botswana, Dr. Zhao Yanbo held a press conference to engage local journalists on what was discussed.
The ambassador emphasized that by no means is the country’s presence in Africa an imperialistic move to horde the continent or to amass its wealth. Dr. Zhao said both China and Africa are victims of imperialism and colonialism. “We share similar historical experiences, development tasks and political aspirations. In cooperation with Africa, China has always followed the principle of sincerity, real results, amity and good faith and the principle of pursuing the greater good and shared interests. We respect Africa, love Africa and support Africa.” He responded. He said they follow a “five-no” approach in their relations with Africa which are; no interference in African countries’ pursuit of development paths that fit their national conditions; no interference in African countries’ internal affairs; no imposition of their will on African countries; no attachment of political strings to assistance to Africa; and no seeking of selfish political gains in investment and financing cooperation with Africa. The ambassador said they encourage Chinese companies to participate in Botswana’s infrastructure development by way of investment-construction-operation or through other models, with focus on enhancing cooperation on energy, transport, ICT and so on.
“In Botswana, our two sides are mainly working on infrastructure projects, which is a bottleneck for Botswana’s economic and social development,” he noted. Chinese companies are encouraged to make at least US$10 billion of investment in Africa in the next three years. In the 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit that President Masisi attended, China proposed “eight major initiatives”, including the infrastructure connectivity initiative, with US$60 billion of financing to Africa in the form of government assistance as well as investment and financing by financial institutions and companies. This will include US$15 billion of grants, interest-free loans and concessional loans, US$20 billion of credit lines, the setting up of a US$10 billion special fund for development financing and a US$5 billion special fund for financing imports from Africa. Digital economy, ICT, clean energy and other related areas are also covered in the Eight Major Initiatives of the FOCAC Beijing Summit.
It was during the 2018 FOCAC summit that China made a debt cancellation of 80 million Pula to Botswana. President Xi also stressed in his speech at the China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against COVID-19 summit that they must stay committed to enhancing China-Africa cooperation. “To help Africa achieve sustainable development is what matters in the long run. China supports Africa in its effort to develop the African Continental Free Trade Area and to enhance connectivity and strengthen industrial and supply chains,” he noted. The Chinese President said his country will also explore broader cooperation with Africa in such new business forms as digital economy, smart city, clean energy, and 5G to boost Africa’s development and revitalization. “We believe, with our joint efforts, China and Africa can forge an even stronger comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership on the way to the fourth industrial revolution.’
He stated. The ambassador was very vague when asked if China will fill the gap of America since it withdrew its annual funding to WHO and only gave figures as to how much China has contributed to the organization thus far in response to COVID 19. “In March China decided to donate 20 million U.S dollars to WHO to support it in carrying out international cooperation in fighting COVID-19 and in April we donated a further 30 million U.S dollars to the organization to help in the construction of public health systems in developing countries, China will also provide 2 billion U.S dollars over 2 years to help with COVID-19 response and with economic and social development in affected countries, especially developing countries.” He stated.
American President Donald Trump has threatened to terminate his relationship with the World health Organisation (WHO) as he accused the United Nations health agency for not holding Beijing to account over the coronavirus pandemic. The US has by far been the largest donor of WHO since its inception.