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On May 8, 2020, CGD senior fellow Scott Morris testified before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on China in Africa. Morris's testimony focused on China’s lending to sub-Saharan African countries, how that lending affects the debt picture on the continent, and how the US government can respond.
Even as we in the United States continue to grapple with the deep challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic, it is important to consider the global context in which this crisis unfolds. In the months ahead, it will be critical for US policy to be well coordinated with other governments and international institutions to defeat a virus that does not respect national borders, and in turn to address the economic effects across economies that have become mutually dependent through many decades of integration. The unique challenges this crisis poses for the poorest countries, which lack basic health and social safety net capacity, ultimately represent vulnerabilities for all of us. And when it comes to an international response, the question of China’s role is unavoidable.
Given its origins, the pandemic has already put China in the spotlight. In some ways, China’s political leadership has embraced this visibility through high profile humanitarian assistance measures, along with a surge in global leadership rhetoric. But the pandemic also amounts to a highly visible reckoning for China’s political leaders, one that they would surely wish to avoid if they could.
I will address one aspect of this reckoning in my testimony: what the pandemic and its attendant economic effects mean for China’s program of overseas investment, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. The region contains the largest concentration of low-income countries in the world and as such is most vulnerable to the twin health and economic effects of the current crisis.