Beijing: China on Sunday hit back at US Vice President Mike Pence for accusing it of luring developing nations into a debt trap through the loans Beijing offers for infrastructure, asserting that not a single country has been “mired in debt” because of cooperation with it.
Pence in his combative address at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea on Saturday said China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is saddling developing countries with loans they cannot afford.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying sharply criticised Pence’s remarks.
“Not a single developing country has been mired in debt difficulties because of its cooperation with China,” she said.
“On the contrary, their cooperation with China has helped them enhance their capacity for self-driven development and improved their people’s livelihood,” she said.
“Our advice for the relevant country is that instead of pointing fingers at others, it would be better to match its deeds with its words and truly treat all countries, big or small, as equals,” she said.
Pence and Chinese President Xi Jinping traded barbs in speeches at the APEC summit on Saturday.
“Know that the US offers a better option. We don’t drown our partners in a sea of debt, we don’t coerce, compromise your independence. We do not offer constricting belt or a one-way road,” Pence told the APEC meet.
In a speech to business leaders, Xi said the BRI initiative was not a “trap” and there was no “hidden agenda”.
Touted as Xi’s ambitious project, the BRI initiative focuses on improving connectivity and cooperation among Asian countries, Africa, China and Europe.
Xi also lashed out at “America First” trade protectionism, saying it was a “short-sighted approach” that was “doomed to failure”.
China’s famed BRI involving over USD 900 billion investments building in infrastructure projects like roads and ports became controversial after Beijing acquired Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port in a USD 1.2 billion debt swap deal on 99 years’ lease.
Folowing this Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad after his victory in recent elections cancelled US$ 22 billion worth of Chinese loans and projects asserting that his country cannot afford such a huge debt.
Also the Maldives’s new President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who took over power on Saturday, stated that the finances of his country are in precarious condition after it raked up huge Chinese loans for infrastructure projects.
China’s investment under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) came under criticism in Pakistan too over the concerns of massive debt burden despite the two nations’ close relations.
Also, Papua New Guinea, the host of the APEC summit has come under severe criticism from its politicians for accepting huge Chinese loans.
Gary Juffa, the governor of Oro province and the leader of an opposition party in Papua New Guinea parliament warned there was a risk of becoming a colony of China arguing that local people were not benefitting from infrastructure projects built under the BRI.
Juffa argued that Chinese investment to the country does not benefit local communities. “We must try to maintain sovereignty. If we do not do that we will just become a colony of China,” he told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post on Sunday.
“I want to ensure that my people own Papua New Guinea’s economy,” he said.
“But now I don’t think we are owning (our) economy. If you want to be truly independent you must own the economy,” he said.