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China's envoy to Kenya sidesteps SGR contracts saga

 

Chinese Ambassador to Kenya Zhou Pingjian​ during an interview with the Standard on August 4, 2022. [Francis Kariuki, Standard]

 

Less than 20 per cent of Kenya’s foreign debt is owed to Chinese creditors, according to Chinese Ambassador to Kenya Zhou Pinjian.

In an interview with The Standard, the envoy was cagey on whether its possible to make public details of Standard Gauge Railway contracts, saying the transactions were “above board”.

The envoy insists that labelling China as Kenya’s main creditor is an overstatement.

Ambassador Pingjian also sidestepped the controversy about Chinese lending to Kenya and Africa a large, a key issue which has become part of Kenya presidential election campaigns.

Zhou pushed back against allegations that China is a predatory lender, and instead emphasized the growth potential and rapid development of Chinese-funded projects in the country, and how they will link with Kenyan development goals.

How would you describe the status of Kenya and China relations?

China and Kenya are comprehensive strategic and cooperative partners. Under the strategic guidance and attention of President Xi Jinping and President Uhuru Kenyatta, the China-Kenya relations have reached new heights unmatched in history, bringing tangible benefits to our two countries.

Our fruitful and wide-ranging practical cooperation stands out in China-Africa cooperation. China always appreciates Kenya’s invaluable support wherever China’s interest is concerned.

There have been concerns among Kenyans about the secrecy of the Kenya-China contracts. Talk of the Standard Gauge Railway for instance. President Kenyatta promised to publish the contract but he hasn’t yet he is retiring. Other presidential candidates have also promised to publish the contracts in the spirit of debt transparency. Is this possible?

China’s cooperation with Kenya is aboveboard. We always respect Kenya’s sovereignty, will and domestic legal procedures. The presence of confidentiality clauses in commercial contracts is consistent with customary business practices and widely adopted international practices. There is no interference or covert manoeuvre. 

Kenya’s debt to China has been a key issue during the electioneering period. Beijing has been accused of being a predatory lender. What is your reaction?

Kenya owes less than 20 per cent of its external debt to Chinese creditors. China is not the biggest lender. Labelling China as the main creditor of Kenya is clearly an overstatement. More importantly, loans from China, concessional or commercial, are project-specific based on equal-footed consultation and mutually beneficial cooperation.

The fruitful and tangible outcomes of China-Kenya financing cooperation are there for all to see. China has no capacity to impose any loan, any project, on any country. We simply try to do our best in line with requests from our friends. That’s what friends are for. The said accusation is totally groundless, if not sheer disinformation.

What are Beijing’s expectations of China-Kenya relations post-Kenyatta regime?

We are convinced that China and Kenya can forge even stronger relations and be equal partners that firmly support each other in accelerating development and revitalization, partners in promoting China-Africa solidarity and partners in safeguarding regional peace.

We will continue to do whatever we could to support Kenya in achieving independent, sustainable development and realising the Kenya Vision 2030 and the Kenyan Dream at an early date.

What have the two counties done to improve the trade relations this year?

Projects speak volumes about achievements in China-Kenya cooperation. As equal partners, win-win is the surest way to grow our relations.

Early this year, our two sides signed six cooperation documents during Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Kenya. The momentum of bilateral cooperation remains strong. The Nairobi Expressway, the Nairobi Eastern Bypass and the Karimenu 2 Dam water supply project were commissioned by President Kenyatta recently. The Nairobi Western Bypass was completed.

The New Kipevu Oil Terminal was put into trial operation. Fresh Kenyan avocado exports to China officially commenced on Tuesday (August 2), making Kenya the first African country to export fresh avocados to China.

The SGR has been safely operated for five years, transporting over eight million passengers and over 1.8 million TEUs ( twenty-foot equivalent units). These are no small achievements, considering all the pandemic challenges.

Any unexplored opportunities that you would want tapped between the two countries?

The FOCAC nine programmes align very well with the eight priority areas identified by the Global Development Initiative. I would say in areas such as food security, manufacturing, traditional medicine, tourism and digital economy, together we can do a lot more for mutual benefit.

Recently a BBC documentary reflects China’s discrimination against Africa, how do you respond to the claim?

The Chinese government has zero tolerance for any form of racial discrimination and child abuse. The related departments have taken rigorous measures to crack down unlawful online acts and ordered every platform not to spread this kind of information. We will continue to do so.

The isolated case by a foolish individual does not change the whole picture. Some ill-intentioned Western media use some isolated cases to provoke us. This is an alarm for both China and Africa. How is the China-Africa relationship, how is China-Africa cooperation, which countries on earth have systemic racism? African countries and African people know better.

What can Africa look forward to as far as trade with China is concerned?

The upcoming 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) will be a key event at a critical moment as China embarks on a new journey to build itself into a modern socialist country. It will map out goals, tasks and policies for the next five years and the longer term for the nation and the CPC. China will only become more and more open. No matter how strong it may grow, China will always see in Africa a tried and tested friend.

Guided by the principle of upholding greater good while pursuing shared interests and the principle of sincerity, real results, amity and good faith, China remains committed to working with Africa to implement the outcomes of the FOCAC Dakar Conference, the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative, and advance high quality Belt and Road cooperation for shared prosperity.

On the recent trip to Taiwan by US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Washington reiterated their unwavering American commitment to the Chinese-claimed self-ruled island, a move that Beijing condemned. What should we expect on China-US relations?

There is but one China in the world, Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory. The Taiwan question is the most important and most sensitive issue at the very heart of China-US Relations.

Since Speaker Pelosi is the incumbent leader of the US Congress, her visit to and activities in Taiwan, in whatever form and for whatever reason, is a major political provocation to upgrade US official exchanges with Taiwan. China absolutely does not accept this, and the Chinese people absolutely reject this.

China will definitely take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity in response to the US Speaker’s visit. All the consequences must be borne by the US side and the “Taiwan independence” separatist forces.