China is “very important partner” for São Tomé and Príncipe, says prime minister

China is a “very important partner” for São Tomé and Príncipe, particularly for “structural projects” such as the airport, new port and housing, São Tomé’s Prime Minister told Macauhub.

Jorge Bom Jesus, in an interview with Macauhub in São Tomé, backed up his statement with the fact that China is donating US$30 million to the country every year, as well as providing other occasional support, in addition to its participation in projects “which we consider to be structural.”

“China is helping us modernise the country,” the prime minister said in an interview due to be published in Macao magazine in September.

The São Tomé head of government, elected in 2018, said that studies on the expansion and modernisation of the new airport “are already well advanced” and that work should start between late 2019 and early 2020.

China will also finance the studies of the new port of São Tomé, which will initially have a commercial and fishing focus, but which the government intends to expand in the future.

The deepwater port project, announced by the previous Government of Patrice Trovoada, has yet to be scheduled for implementation.

“We will start with a docking port, as we cannot remain in a situation where ships cannot dock, which makes goods very expensive,” he said.

These structural projects will have, “in principle Chinese funding,” from public funds, “but we are also open to private funds” with support from China, “from Chinese banks and credit lines made available,” said Jorge Bom Jesus.

Even before work on the airport, construction of the first 60 houses is scheduled to begin, out of a total of 200 spread across five housing blocks in the districts of Lobata and Cantagalo, near the capital.

Cooperation with China also extends to the recovery of the city of São Tomé city, which is important for the country’s history and tourism, said Bom Jesus.

In the interview, Bom Jesus acknowledged the archipelago’s difficult financial situation and pressures from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to contain spending, but argued that this does not affect the financing of structural projects.

“In relation to China, we are talking mainly about donations, but we will also see to what extent we can, privately, through long-term soft loans,” launch the structural projects, he said.

Among the priorities is the improvement of the business environment, as well as the relaunch of the free zone project, including the financial market and the port, which requires, “some tax reform to encourage businesses to set themselves up.”

São Tomé and Príncipe hosted this year’s 14th Business Meeting between China and the Portuguese-speaking Countries, two years after the resumption of China-São Tomé diplomatic relations and the country becoming a full member of Forum Macau. (Macauhub)

MACAUHUB FRENCH