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Clara Ferreira Marques

China’s Africa Policy Is Evolving. Can the West Follow?

The West’s excessive focus on African debt has blinded it to China’s widening engagement in a region of 1.4 billion consumers.

Not just a resource grab.

Not just a resource grab.

Photographer: Tchandrou Nitanga/AFP via Getty Images

Myths tend to linger longer than fact, and few have been more resilient in the face of evidence and data than the idea of a Chinese debt trap ensnaring African economies. Last week alone, Britain’s spy chief warned of Beijing trying to “get people on the hook,” while an exaggerated report on China seizing Entebbe Airport in Uganda spread far and wide, despite the fact the grace period for a Chinese loan had not even expired.

Less attention was paid to China’s just-concluded meeting with African leaders. A closer look at its multifaceted outcomes offers reminders that for Beijing, the continent is not just a source of raw materials, agricultural goods and construction business. It’s a valuable political ally — a crucial voting bloc in the United Nations, for one — and a market of 1.4 billion mostly young consumers, to which the country is willing to direct ample private sector capital and soft power.