Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced 410 billion yuan (US$60 billion) in aid and investment for a plethora of infrastructure and development projects in Africa over the next three years.
In a keynote speech at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, Xi made the commitment to a packed auditorium inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. There, heads of state, diplomats and corporate leaders from 54 African nations and their Chinese counterparts gathered for the triennial forum on Monday.
The aid includes $15 billion in grants, interest-free or concessional loans; $10 billion in investment by state-owned and private Chinese companies; a $10-billion special fund for infrastructure development; and a $5-billion fund for financing African imports of Chinese goods and services, according to Xinhua.
But Chinese people commenting or reacting on social media soon began grumbling about big-spending Xi blowing taxpayers’ money on dollar diplomacy and on fanfare projects that may benefit nobody other than dictators in Africa and their Chinese middlemen.
The pervasive albeit suppressed anger is seen in posts on China’s social networking platforms, which insinuate that Xi could have devoted the eye-popping amount to better uses at home, like extra tax relief for wage-earners or tuition waivers for pupils from rural areas.
“The party keeps telling me that it’s my duty to pay taxes, but has Xi ever sought my views on how to spend my money?” asked one netizen.
Some have compared Xi’s money-for-loyalty approach with the mindset of the late Qing dynasty regent Empress Dowager Cixi, who infamously said in a decree in 1900 in response to an invading international military coalition that she would “fully utilize China’s money and resources in offering and indulging foreign nations to their total satisfaction.”
“[Cixi’s remarks] to please invaders and give whatever they want for the sake of Qing’s survival make some sense to me, but what’s the point of continue to splurge hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ money on helping far-flung African countries when we have a host of issues back home?” one comment said.
Critics say that, since the founding of the Communist republic, Beijing has tended to Africa’s every need with an astronomical amount of financial support. They also decry the provision of everything from rice to napkins for more than half a century, and note that not even its own economic woes and upheavals have failed to stop Beijing from giving.
For instance, the 1,860-kilometer Tazara Railway linking Tanzania with Zambia opened in 1975 was one of the largest China-investment and building projects in Africa, while the $200-million African Union headquarters – a vast 132,000-square-meter building in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa – is also hailed as a symbol of the China-Africa bromance.
Double Beijing’s outlays on health
It is estimated that Beijing’s 410 billion yuan in aid for Africa is equivalent to the combined annual gross domestic product of Tibet and Qinghai – twice the amount of the tax cut announced last week, or more than double central government outlays on public health or six times its expenditure on social welfare in 2017.
In another sarcasm-laden post on Weibo, a citizen proposed raising capital to buy a chunk of land in Africa, then recruiting a local person as a figurehead leader to found a new nation and then seek diplomatic ties with Beijing.
He promised to return the money with interest to partners once the “new nation” receives aid from Beijing, and expected to get a prime plot in downtown Beijing to build the nation’s embassy, with all the immunity, privileges and prerogatives guaranteed.
The post was shared millions of times before censors removed it on Monday evening.