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Paw Tracker newsletter (Week of Aug 22)

Chinese and African media outlets are being mobilized to better collaborate more on “advocating for development” and “telling stories about China-Africa cooperation well”. Such collaboration is being advanced through multiple platforms including the Forum on China-Africa Media Cooperation, which held its 5th major gathering last week. In another key region where China is projecting its development influence, Huawei’s signal towers will soon be erected in the Solomon Islands ahead of the 2023 Pacific Games, a major achievement for the telecom giant after bilateral relations entered a new stage with the controversial signing of a security and economic agreement earlier this year.
The Paw Tracker newsletter, developed by Panda Paw Dragon Claw, provides up-to-date and granular project-level information on the Belt and Road Initiative. Drawing from Chinese sources of information that are often disjointed and difficult to access, the newsletter also aims to become a convening space for watchers of the BRI to share and cross-check information about projects and their impacts on the ground. 

Talk of the Town

On Aug 25 the 5th Forum on China-Africa Media Cooperation was held in Beijing in a hybrid offline-online format. According to China Daily, over 240 media professionals and diplomats from China and 42 African countries attended. The forum was organized by China’s ​​National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA), Beijing municipal government and the African Union of Broadcasting and was given a high level of prominence in China’s state media-political signaling ecosystem, featuring on Xinhua’s evening news on Aug 25. 

This was in large part due to Xi Jinping, by proxy, delivering an address to the forum on the theme of “new prospects, new development, new cooperation”. Xi’s address, delivered by the head of the CCP’s Publicity Department, Huang Kunming, called for Chinese and African journalists to be “advocates for development, to tell the stories of the new era in China-Africa cooperation well, and promote the common values of all humankind.”

From the African side, the event was attended (virtually) by Macky Sall, president of Senegal and current co-chair of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation, Moussa Faki Mahamat of the African Union Commission, and ministers of media related departments from Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania and Republic of Congo. 

The Forum on China-Africa Media Cooperation, held biannually and held alternately in China and Africa, is now in its 10th year. The last session was held in Nairobi in 2020 and focused on the more concrete theme of media and the fourth industrial revolution

While to Chinese stakeholders, Xi’s call to “tell stories well” – an extension of a domestic media campaign – may primarily concern telling positive stories of the China-Africa relationship, from the African side perhaps the most critical need is understanding of and access to China and Chinese stakeholders. In his address at the forum, CEO of the African Union of Broadcasting, Gregoire Ndjaka, noted the training opportunities China has provided to African journalists as one of the most beneficial aspects of the media cooperation relationship. A China Daily article last week stated that over 3,000 African journalists have taken part in such training programs. While these training programs invariably try to show the most positive sides of China and its development story to participants, there is little evidence that they directly censor the reporting of journalists. In a few weeks Panda Paw Dragon Claw will publish a profile of one Nigerian journalist who participated in a reporting program for African journalists run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs back in 2018. Keep an eye out for that for a more in depth look at how these programs operate.

A similar program is now being run through the China Public Diplomacy Association, a “national non-profit organization”, the latest round of which reportedly began in June with over 90 journalists attending. According to Nigerian outlet The Sun, addressing the cohort of participants, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying expressed a desire to see more African news outlets establish operations in China.

Last year’s FOCAC in Dakar promised cooperation on “people-to-people” exchanges, under which media is listed as one example, and on the hardware of digitalization such as internet and 5G infrastructure. Xi’s address to the FOCAC8 also included a promise to “invite 10,000 high-level African professionals to seminars and workshops” in China.

This week's highlight project


Solomon Islands: Green light for Huawei signal towers 

Speaking of the physical infrastructure of digital connectivity, on Aug 18 Huawei received a long awaited green light from the government of the Solomon Islands for the construction of 161 signal towers in the Pacific country. The deal is worth RMB 450 million and has been highly tied up with geopolitics and questions of influence that arose with the controversial security agreement between the two countries signed in April this year.

The loan for the project is being provided by the China Export-Import Bank with interest of 1% and a payment time of 20 years. The Solomon Islands government stated that they expect the final arrangements on financing to be decided by the end of the year and for construction to begin early next year. The 161 signal towers are expected to provide connectivity to the whole archipelago of islands. According to the FT, nearly a third of the towers are scheduled to be completed by the start of the Pacific Games being held in Solomon Islands in Nov 2023.

Other project & corporate updates

Lao PDR: two coal-fired power plants contracted to CEEC under the banner of “clean energy”

In a celebratory tone, Energy China (CEEC) announced on its official website that it has recently won two contracts in Lao PDR for so-called “clean energy projects”. Both contracts are design and technical services contracts for coal-fired power plants: the 2x330MW supercritical pit mouth power plant in Nam Pan and the 350MW supercritical power plant in Houaphanh. 

Why it gets our attention: The high-profile nature of the announcement (a very long featured piece on a major SOE’s homepage, later amplified by the BRI official portal) indicates that these projects have received some kind of endorsement in the system, despite their obvious contradiction to the no-new-coal-power-overseas pledge. The spectacle begs serious questions. And explanations might be lying in the details of the contracts:

CEEC branded the Houaphanh project a “coal + hydro” combination that brings stability to the local power system, especially during dry seasons when hydro power outputs are unreliable. The framing of coal-power as supportive to a broader clean energy strategy is in line with how it is positioned domestically as an integral part of a resilient low-carbon energy system, especially in the construction of large clean energy bases where coal power is bundled with wind and solar as a “regulating” power source. There might be a chance that this line of thinking has entered decision making for projects overseas and made the pledge more accommodating for certain coal-fired power projects. This would, however, still seem to contradict the wording of Xi’s pledge at the UN General Assembly last year. The nature of the contracts as early-stage exploration and design service contracts might also be a reason for apparent exemption.

If you have further details of any of the above mentioned projects that you would like to share with the community, please reach out to us through

Looking for an intern

The Paw Tracker Newsletter is looking for an intern to help put together this weekly overview of BRI information. The role involves reading, summarizing and analyzing Chinese reporting on BRI project developments, commentary from Chinese experts and more. It will be a good fit for students of Chinese studies with an interest in practicing Chinese reading skills while getting familiar with Chinese overseas investments. A monthly stipend will be provided. Be in touch if this sounds of interest to you or someone you know.

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