China’s obsession with financial secrecy causes problems in Africa … even when it gives $ 55 million

This week it emerged that Beijing had secretly offered Sierra Leone $ 55 million to fund a controversial “fishing port” on an undeveloped stretch of coast, which supports the local fishing industry, borders the rainforest. protected and home to endangered turtles and pangolins.

The deal only came to light after residents of the Whale Bay area, where the port is planned, told residents there was a holdback on land swaps due to a Chinese deal, says Jane Aspden Gbandewa, who runs an eco-tourism business in the region.

The rumor mill was busy. The Chinese have reportedly funded the kind of fishmeal factory that has proliferated recently along the West African coast – businesses devastating the local environment, gobbling up large quantities of fish and spewing out toxic and odorous waste.

Beijing and Freetown were forced to deny the rumors but admitted that a deal had been reached – although no details were forthcoming.

Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio on Tuesday said the project was part of Beijing’s “Belt and Road International Initiative” and would support the local fishing industry. All “environmental due diligence will be carried out”, he added.
Nonetheless, such measures do not fit well with President Xi Jinping’s calls to build an “ecological civilization” at home in China, and his determination to be a world leader on the climate crisis.

In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said “a modern fishing pier” has been a “long-standing wish” of the people of Sierra Leone since the 1970s.

The Foreign Ministry declined to specify which Chinese bank or agency was involved, when the funds were exchanged – or whether they were still in China – and the terms of the grant: for example, whether a Chinese company will carry out the work. of construction. . He simply said: “The ownership of the land and the port belongs to Sierra Leone”.

The expansion of Sierra Leone’s fishing industry, vital to its food security and export industry, could be a boon to the country, if done responsibly. Yet the reluctance around money only breeds suspicion – even though it is a common factor in many deals negotiated by China. A study of Chinese loan contracts earlier this year found that confidentiality clauses are an essential part of the Belt and Road agreements.
As Cobus van Staden, senior China-Africa researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs, wrote this week: “The bottom line is that any Chinese deal, no matter how flawless, is suspect, already pre-tainted by the ‘huge gap in trust between national governments and local communities. ”
“It is not surprising that the ‘debt trap’ narrative has proved so enduring in Africa,” Van Staden added. “Even if its specificities have been debunked several times, the story fits so well into the lived experience on the continent that it will probably never die.

China’s Affairs: Dusting the Uniqlo Borders

Uniqlo’s recent contact with US border officials is the latest example of the growing risks multinationals face when operating in China.

U.S. officials blocked a delivery to the Japanese clothing retailer in January, citing concerns the shirts may have been produced by forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region. Uniqlo denied the claim in a statement to CNN Business and said it was “disappointed” by the decision. (China has repeatedly denied human rights violations in the region.)

Uniqlo was one of more than 80 companies that the Australian Institute for Strategic Policy said “directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uyghur workers outside Xinjiang through abusive labor transfer programs. “.

But in its statement, Uniqlo said it sent documents to US customs officials “to demonstrate that our products meet US import requirements”, adding that all of its products “use only cotton from sustainable sources.”

The clothing brand, which belongs to the Japanese Fast Retailing, faces a delicate balance in its messaging. In China, a key market for Uniqlo, brands like H&M have faced boycotts for voicing concerns about forced labor in Xinjiang. But if Uniqlo does not take a strong stand, it risks alienating consumers in other markets.

The reality for Japanese companies poses a unique challenge: Although the government is a key ally of the United States, China is a neighbor and the largest market for Japanese companies.

Another Japanese clothing brand, Muji, has taken a different approach, claiming that it continues to use cotton from Xinjiang and even advertise products made with “Xinjiang cotton”.

– By Selina Wang

Uniqlo has faced charges of forced labor related to its operations in China.

Quoted and noted

“We are appalled to see blatant anti-Semitism expressed in official Chinese media, we have hoped that the days of ‘Jew controlling the world’ conspiracy theories are over, unfortunately anti-Semitism has once again shown its ugly face.”

– Israeli Embassy in China called a segment of state broadcaster CGTN which referred to Jews dominating “the financial, media and internet sectors” in the United States and speculated that a Jewish lobby could influence Washington’s policy on Israel. The video has since been removed from all platforms.

Crypto miners in the reticle

Authorities in northern China are cracking down on cryptocurrency mining – and they want cookies.

The Inner Mongolia Development and Reform Commission said on Tuesday it has set up a dedicated hotline and email address for the public to report any crypto-mining operations in the region, including those disguising themselves as data centers to benefit from preferential tax policies.
Crypto-mining creates digital coins by solving complex mathematical problems, a process that requires large amounts of computer processing power and consumes a lot of energy. As the second largest coal-producing region in China, Inner Mongolia’s cheap electricity has made it a popular choice for miners. The region once accounted for about 8% of all Bitcoin mining globally, according to the Cambridge Center for Alternative Finance.
But the energy-consuming industry is coming under increasing scrutiny from the Chinese government, which has pledged that carbon emissions will peak by 2030 and hopes to achieve carbon neutrality. ‘by 2060. Earlier this year, Inner Mongolia pledged to end all cryptocurrency mining projects by the end of April.

In addition to crypto mining, China has also restricted digital currencies more generally. This week, Chinese regulators banned financial institutions and payment companies from participating in transactions or providing services related to cryptocurrencies. The news caused Bitcoin’s value to drop by as much as 30% before recovering slightly.

Photo of the day

The things we do for love: A couple poses on a statue of the hand of Buddha built on a cliff at Shiniuzhai National Geological Park in China’s Hunan Province. May 20 is celebrated as “I love you day” because of the date which looks like this phrase in Mandarin. However, not everyone was happy on Thursday – two local governments had to drop plans to suspend divorces for the day after public backlash.

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