During online talks with ministers from African nations over the weekend, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi suggested that Japan would help African countries "escape China's 'debt trap,'" Japanese news outlet Kyodo News reported. Hayashi reportedly claimed that he and representatives from African countries shared the importance of transparent and fair development financing. Kyodo News speculated that the rhetoric is attempted to counter China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The talks, which concluded on Sunday, were reportedly focused on the groundwork for the 8th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), a Japan-led initiative to assist African development, slated for August. Unlike the BRI, the TICAD is largely unheard of and has little progress to show for, which explains why Hayashi feel the need to slander China-Africa cooperation with the "debt trap" cliché.
First and foremost, the so-called "debt trap" is nothing but a lie fabricated by Western countries to smear and disrupt a deepening economic and trade relationship between China and developing countries. By now it should be an insult for these developing countries that Western officials constantly remind them of such claims.
As some Western countries intensify the "debt trap" hype against the backdrop of mounting debt pressure facing many countries amid COVID-19 pandemic, research carried out by Johns Hopkins University last year shows that Chinese banks have actually never seized assets from any country and were willing to restructure the terms of existing loans.
African countries have long been aware of such attempts, and they have never hesitated to refute the "debt trap" lie. In November, during his visit to Nigeria, US Secretary of State Blinken slandered China for burdening African countries with "unsustainable debts," but the Nigerian foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama immediately refuted Blinken, noting that cooperation with China offers Nigeria excellent infrastructure development opportunities.
This only makes the Japanese foreign minister's latest attempt even more absurd. The reason why Hayashi chose to use the false "debt trap" narrative to smear China-Africa cooperation is because it is fully wrapped up by anxiety of losing overseas projects and is attempting to turn African countries against China with this latest geopolitical gimmick. By repeating such lies, Hayashi will certainly not change any mind.
Whether China's financial assistance and infrastructure projects are traps or represent strong supports for African countries' economies, facts speak louder than words. China has remained both Africa's largest trading partner and source of investment for more than a decade. While China offers financial supports and affordable proposals to local economies to build up economic strength to weather challenges, some developed countries have only offered aid with political strings attached.
China-Africa trade bucked the global economic downward trend and reaches all-time high in 2021, reflecting resilience amid the pandemic. The two sides will steadfastly promote mutually beneficial cooperation and safeguard common interests, according to white paper on China-Africa cooperation in new era published by China in November.
Seeing China-Africa economic cooperation yielding tangible results, Japan is trying to rebuild its influence in the region, but it should be clear that increasingly cooperation between China and African countries is based on solid foundations, and other parties' smear campaign and petty actions will only end in failure.
Moreover, while China and Japan have competition in overseas projects, there are also plenty of areas where they can cooperate. But Japan's "debt trap" rhetoric has reflected its zero-sum mindset. If Japan is seeking to expand its interests when it comes to overseas cooperation, it should put aside its hostile attitude toward China and actively participate in cooperation in accordance with trends of globalization, multilateralism and free trade, rather than launching political attacks.