Japan PM wraps up Africa meet with debt-warning aimed at China

Investors in Africa must beware of burdening countries with “excessive” debt, Japan’s prime minister warned last week Friday – an apparent swipe at China whose Belt and Road policy has been accused of saddling poor nations with crippling debt.

Speaking to reporters at the end of an African development conference outside Tokyo, Shinzo Abe emphasised that countries in the G20 group of top economies, including China, had committed to the concept of “debt sustainability”.

“In providing assistance to Africa, we have to take note of the debt burden of the recipient country and take care that debt burden does not become excessive,” Abe said when asked about China’s influence in Africa.

Earlier, a joint statement published after the three-day summit said: “We believe quality infrastructure that guarantees affordability with respect to life-cycle costs is fundamental for sustainable economic transformation”.

The meeting of leaders and representatives from more than 50 African nations and international bodies has taken place in the shadow of China, which has invested massively in Africa under its controversial Belt and Road initiative.

On Thursday, Abe took a thinly-veilled dig at Beijing’s policy, saying: “If partner countries are deeply in debt, it interferes with everyone’s efforts to enter the market”.

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This provoked a sharp response from foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang in Beijing, who described this as “purely unreasonable speculation”.

“It should be pointed out that African leaders have said many times that there was never a lack of international conferences and promises of aid to Africa, but the key lies in action and implementation,” noted Geng late Thursday.

At the conference, Japan has focused on the “quality” of its investments rather than the volume of China, which announced a massive US$60billion in African development funding last year.

For example, Japan plans to train experts in 30 African countries in the next three years, on managing risks and public debts, Abe announced.

The emphasis at the meeting has also been on private investment rather than state development funding.

“I hope you notice how enthusiastic Japanese companies are for doing business in Africa,” gushed Japan’s Economy, Trade and Industry Minister, Hiroshige Seko.

Abe said: “With the local community and the host country, the government of Japan is trying to push forward the activities of Japanese businesses.

“We will be happy to provide them all our support for advancing Africa in various forms,” he added.

Since 1993, Japan has partnered with African countries to hold the TICAD (Tokyo International Conference on African Development) around every five years, in a drive to promote aid and business opportunities.

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At the last meeting in 2016, Japan pledged around US$30billion in development funding for Africa, but there was no immediate figure put forward on Friday as the conference closed.

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