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“China Also Has to Win”: A Discussion with Yun Sun on One Belt, One Road in Africa

In an interview with the Africa Center, China expert Yun Sun offers a look at Beijing's engagement with Africa and African governments' evolving expectations of their relationship.

China’s One Belt One Road strategy (OBOR, commonly known as the Belt and Road Initiative) is a global undertaking, encompassing over 1,700 projects in 65 countries. Forty-four African countries—along with the African Union—have signed OBOR agreements covering close to 400 projects, from highways and ports to power plants and digital infrastructure. As OBOR comes under increasing criticism over the lack of transparency in how many of its projects are negotiated, lack of attention to their environmental and human rights impacts, and imbalanced debt arrangements, Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center, says that African governments need to be “more disciplined” in deciding whether to accept the terms of some deals. At the same time, African policymakers, academics, media practitioners, private sector professionals, and civil society groups should continue closely scrutinizing the projects and deals in their countries and demanding greater accountability. This scrutiny should be accompanied by the understanding that for funding deals to work, they must benefit both sides. “The Chinese approach to Africa is not philanthropy,” she says. “It’s a win-win. … China also has to win in the game.”