x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

China and Africa forge economic ties

African reactions to an announcement by China that it will be making loans to the continent of $20bn varied widely.

Earlier this month, the Egyptian city of Sharm el Sheikh housed the fourth ministerial convention of the triennial Sino-African Forum, and very soon Beijing will host the 2009 Sino-African forum for development and industrial co-operation, according to a chronicle written by Abdullah al Madani, a Bahraini academic, and published by the Emirati daily Al Ittihad.

The highlight of the convention was China's announcement that it will allocate $10 billion over the next three years in facilitated loans to African countries and it pledged to become more involved in matters of instating peace, stability and economic growth. "African reactions to the Chinese initiative differed nonetheless. Some considered it a timely blow by the country against the western capitalist monster; especially that Chinese assistance and promises are rarely appended by political conditions or injunctions concerning human rights or freedom of speech. Others, conversely, saw the Chinese move as just another act of imperial hegemony, no different from the schemes of the western powers," the writer said.

Not too long ago, Chinese foreign trade was somewhat insignificant. Soon after Richard Nixon's celebrated visit to Beijing - that is around the mid-1970s - Chinese foreign trade rocketed to $15 billion until it reached a staggering $325 billion by 2000, accounting for 44 per cent of China's GDP.

What concrete benefits are hoped from the many visits that the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has paid to countries that have practically no role or involvement in the Palestinian cause? This is the question that Khaled al Hroub put forth in the opinion section of the pan-Arab, Saudi-owned daily Al Hayat. "One could confidently assert that Mahmoud Abbas has been, over the past year or two, the most active Arab leader when it comes to international travels. Last year, President Abbas visited dozens of states, among them Dagestan, Chechnya, Serbia and Kurdistan," the writer said. In 2009, Mr Abbas made about 50 trips. With his travels taking off from the neighbouring Jordan, Mr Abbas then always loses a couple of days during each of his visits which average four or five days. On this basis, counting the minimum number of days during which the president had been away in 2009, one would find about 200; that is, two thirds of the year, the writer notes.

Of course, diplomatic visits to such important countries as the US, Russia, France, Italy and Germany are always laudable and, in fact, necessary. But visits to some remote and minor states remain hardly justifiable when the complexity of issues within the Palestinian authority, with Hamas and with Israel, calls for constant presence of the political leader.

"Any outsider who had the chance to read the cabinet statement of the new Lebanese government will immediately express admiration at Lebanon's democratic 'maturity' and its way of solving conflicts in a peaceful manner," wrote Saad Mehio in the comment section of the Emirati daily Al Khaleej. The statement lists all sorts of arrangements and compromises with respect to issues that were considered just a while ago unsolvable. Crucial concepts such as "the state," "the resistance" and "civic duties" have been defined in unequivocal language. The definitions would be music to the ears of any outsider. "But things are different when perceived from the angle of the Lebanese people who are, unawares, living under sheer dictatorship; a system controlled by members of an oligarchy who disagree on everything except sharing economic rackets [-] and the necessity to perpetuate sectarianism," the columnist claimed.

Cake sharing has been effective since independence 66 years ago, with corruption, cronyism and bribery becoming full-fledged, self-serving institutions. The concrete side effect of this came to light when Lebanon's small stature squirmed under the weight of $50 billion worth in debt. As for sectarianism, it remains the monolithic colossus that the Lebanese politicians still revere as their only deity.

The tensions between Algeria and Egypt are gradually relaxing after three tough weeks of media warfare and exchange of accusations that followed the decisive game they played in Khartoum, which granted Algeria the ticket to the World Cup finals in South Africa, commented Abdelbari Atwan in the Moroccan daily newspaper Al Massae. This respite should be favourable to the mediation efforts that the Libyan leader, Col Muammar al Qadafi, intends to pitch in order to bring the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and his Algerian counterpart, Abdul Aziz Bouteflika, around the same table, with a view to restoring brotherly diplomatic relations between the two Arab states and bringing reconciliation between the two peoples.

Egyptian-Algerian relations had already been strained this year during the election of a secretary-general for Unesco, when both countries had a candidate and one had to be sacrificed to give stronger chances to the other in representing the Arabs at the top of the prestigious cultural institution. "The Libyan leader is the fittest person to undertake such a mission, considering the special status that he enjoys in both capitals and owing to his known political views that foster Arab nationalism and unification," the writer argued.

* Digest compiled by Achraf A El Bahi aelbahi@thenational.ae