Beijing has come to the defence of the Jubilee administration against accusations that Nairobi is over-borrowing to set up projects like the standard gauge railway.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Ming, who was in the country for the launch of the new railway, said the construction was an investment that would bring rewards to Kenya in the long run.
“When a debt is put in the right project, it is not a burden,” Mr Zhang said in a statement.
“The investment will give the money back since SGR is the largest infrastructural project in Kenya and it will lead to economic growth of the whole region, which means that the debt will be paid.”
The Chinese provided 90 per cent of the Sh327 billion spent to build the 472km line between Mombasa and Nairobi.
Launched on Wednesday by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, the new line is intended as a way of decongesting the Mombasa-Nairobi highway.
But its construction has come amid claims from opposition leaders that its cost ballooned by Sh100 billion, with some economists arguing that the old railway built in 1900 could have been upgraded instead.
In the statement, the Chinese official, who served as Beijing’s ambassador to Nairobi between 2006 and 2009, argued that the new line between Mombasa and Nairobi was necessary to improve the efficiency of the port of Mombasa, besides boosting job creation.
“While we are celebrating the SGR, we should start thinking of the other benefits from the SGR.
“Kenya has Vision 2030, and it needs enhanced loading capacity and speed which the [metre-gauge] railway could not support,” he argued.
Kenya recently applied for another loan of $3.59 billion (about Sh370 billion) from the Chinese to extend the SGR to Kisumu.
In his briefing to journalists, President Kenyatta said a feasibility study is already under way to determine the actual route to Kisumu.
But he said the railway alone will not bring the intended benefits to Kenyans unless other related infrastructure is constructed.
“We haven’t set any targets because we still got to go and move towards the industrial parks…These are what will determine the volume of exports as we move down the path to industrialisation,” he said.
“That is why I keep talking about the industrial parks that we need to develop; the dry dock that we need to develop in Voi, there is another park cargo handling that we need to in Athi River and the industrial parks that we need to build; one in Voi, one also in Athi-River-Machakos and we need to do another one in Naivasha and ultimately another one in Kisumu.”
In fact during the launch, China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) officials placed huge prints of a photo of President Uhuru Kenyatta shaking hands with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, perhaps signifying just how regular the two have interacted over the SGR.
But the official was also defending Chinese companies from accusations that they have little regard for the environment.
CRBC faced various environmental groups opposed to the new railway who argued the line would block animal passages in Tsavo and Nairobi national parks.
Mr Zhang said Chinese firms take “a lot of consideration” to protect wildlife.
Mr Zhang travelled in a delegation led by Chinese State Councillor Wang Yong, who met with President Uhuru Kenyatta to discuss “future cooperation” before travelling to Mombasa for the launch.