Rui d'Ávila Lourido, president of the Observatory for China

Lusophone countries should deepen ties with China – Scholar

The president of the Observatory for China defended that Portuguese-speaking countries should deepen their relationship with China, rejecting the idea that Beijing leaves the countries in which it invests trapped in debt.

“It is said that China has the trick of leaving countries stuck in debt, (…) but imports from Africa have been, since 2020, 1.2 trillion, while exports to Africa were 1.27, so values balanced”, said Rui Lourido, at a conference on China taking place at the Macau Scientific and Cultural Centre, in Lisbon.

Speaking to Lusa on the sidelines of the conference, the historian reiterated that “there is no prospect of countries being trapped in the debt trap, not least because China has forgiven a large part of the accumulated debts of countries, not only Portuguese-speaking but also other countries in Africa”.

In his intervention, Mr Lourido began by defending the need to “demystify the campaign, the anti-China rhetoric that has overwhelmed” the media.

“Since joining the World Trade Organization, China has contributed around 30% of world growth and the world would be in recession if it weren’t for China’s current development. We have seen that, in the pandemic, China itself maintained that the world did not go into overdrive”, said Lourido, for whom the Chinese presence in world trade “has benefited millions of people around the world, especially in developing countries”, but also in the developed world.

Referring to Africa, the historian recalled that China is already the fourth largest investor and one of the continent’s biggest trading partners and the main partner of countries such as South Africa or Angola.

“China’s trade volume in Africa rose by around 38% in the first three quarters of 2021. Direct investment in African industry grew by around 10% and the value of new contracts signed also increased by around 22%,” he explained.

Mr Lourido stressed that Beijing “is not only interested in taking raw materials”, but also in the development of countries, investing in “infrastructures essential for the development of the economic future of these countries”, such as the railway, energy, telecommunications or even schools and health units.

In addition, Chinese investments have created “more than 4.5 million jobs in Africa”, but Beijing “does not impose its political vision (…) as the United States and the European Union do”.

The researcher defended that all Portuguese-speaking countries have privileged relations with Beijing, noting that between 2014 and 2021 they all made significant economic agreements with China, some of them, like Portugal, strategic partnerships.

For the official, the Portuguese-speaking States “must take advantage of China’s economic development for their autonomy in the African context and, why not, in the European context”.

Among Portuguese-speaking countries, Brazil is currently China’s main partner, immediately followed by Angola, and the trade balance with these two countries “is disadvantageous for China”.

The third Portuguese-speaking country in relations with China is Portugal, followed by Mozambique and East Timor, and then Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé and Príncipe, said the researcher.

Asked whether Portuguese-speaking countries should be careful in their economic relations with China, Rui Lourido recalled that Beijing, in its international relations, “has a win-win policy, that is, it is a mutual gain.

He admitted that countries like Mozambique or Angola must have concerns about sustainability, in the sense of avoiding pollution and deforestation, but he stressed that this happens with other investors as well.

“Capitalism is the same in all countries,” he said, warning, however, that Portuguese-speaking countries themselves “are responsible and have to demand negotiation, not only on an equal footing with China, but taking into account the marginal trade that takes advantage of it”.