Whether DRC-China Mining Deal Will Be Restructured Remains Uncertain

Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi faces an uphill battle in his promise to overhaul what he says is an unfair minerals-for-infrastructure deal with China before the resource-rich but conflict-plagued country’s December elections, analysts said after the African leader’s visit to Beijing the past week.

While Tshisekedi’s spokesman told reporters that negotiations over the restructuring of the deal went “wonderfully” when Tshisekedi met with counterpart Xi Jinping, and a revised agreement should be complete by the end of the year, nothing concrete was actually mentioned in a post-meeting press release.

Tshisekedi has long said the multibillion-dollar deal made by his predecessor — which gave China 68% of a major mining stake in exchange for Chinese partners promising to build roads, hospitals and schools — unfairly benefits China more than the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The DRC government earlier this year released a report saying the country had not received nearly as much infrastructure as it should have from the $6.2 billion deal.

Kinshasa now wants to rewrite the agreement so it gets a larger share of the mining output.

“Tshisekedi is facing tremendous pressure from his political opponents ahead of the December elections,” Paul Nantulya, a research associate at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, told VOA.

“China and this particular deal has become a major issue in this campaign,” he added. “It is perceived as patently unfair because obviously the Congolese side could have gotten a lot more.”

DRC is home to huge copper reserves as well as the world’s largest reserves of cobalt, a mineral essential to the batteries in electric vehicles, which are in high demand both in China and the West.

At the U.S.-Africa Summit in Washington in December, the DRC, the U.S., and Zambia — another major source of minerals — signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a supply chain for the electric car batteries, in what was widely considered by analysts as a move to counter China in the region.

Outcomes of state visit

After Tshisekedi’s pomp and ceremony-filled meeting with Xi, a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said the two committed to strengthening bilateral relations but didn’t mention negotiations around the divisive mining deal, saying Beijing will “support the DRC’s industrialization strategy, strengthen cooperation with the DRC in such fields as energy, minerals, agriculture, infrastructure and manufacturing.”

In what appeared to be a slight dig at Congo, the press release said “China hopes that the DRC will provide policy support and convenient services to Chinese enterprises investing and doing business in the DRC, and foster a fair, just, and safe business environment.”

“Obviously, China is not happy about the one-sided evaluation that was made by the Congolese government” regarding how much infrastructure Congo has got from the deal, said Christian Geraud Neema Byamungu, francophone editor at the China Global South Project, a media organization focusing on Chinese international policies.

“Overall, Tshisekedi didn’t get what he wanted, at least what media were saying he wanted to get,” he told VOA.

“Both parties will have to meet and work together on evaluating the contract. It’s only from there that we will know if renegotiation will happen. It’s obvious that it won’t be an easy or quick process,” Neema Byamungu added.

Nantuyla echoed this, saying: “How are the Chinese partners likely to respond to this? … I think it’s fair to say that they’re going to try and keep their piece as big as possible.”

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