Clinton’s Africa kicks off competition between US and China

By IndepthAfrica
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Aug 12th, 2012
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Clinton tour Africa

By Cheng Guangjin
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has concluded an 11-day tour of Africa in which she promoted a new US strategy for the continent.

The visit also stoked international debate about whether the US and China, the world’s two biggest economies, are competing for resources in Africa.

Clinton’s remarks during the trip, although not mentioning any country by name, were widely interpreted by analysts and media to be targeting China and lobbying African leaders to cooperate with the US, which was replaced by China three years ago as Africa’s biggest trading partner.

Clinton arrived in Senegal on Aug 1 and visited Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and Ghana. It was the highest-level visit to the continent by a US official since Barack Obama’s administration issued a new strategy for Africa in June.

Clinton said in Senegal that the US was committed to “a model of sustainable partnership that adds value, rather than extracts it” from Africa. She said unlike other countries, the US “will stand up for democracy and universal human rights even when it might be easier to look the other way and keep the resources flowing”.

A Xinhua News Agency commentary said Clinton’s trip had a “hidden agenda”, which was “aimed, at least partly, at discrediting China’s engagement with the continent and curbing China’s influence there”.

“Her remarks betrayed an attempt to drive a wedge between China and Africa for selfish gain by the US,” said the commentary headlined “US plot to sow discord between China, Africa is doomed to fail”.

He Wenping, an expert on African studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said figuring out how to balance China’s influence in Africa may be one of the strategic intentions of Clinton’s visit to Africa.

“The White House has stated that China is no threat to the US, and called for closer cooperation to support Africa’s development,” He wrote in an article.

“But consider Clinton’s accusations against China’s ‘new colonialism’ during her visit to Zambia in June last year and her criticism of China’s development and investment mode during her tour of China’s neighbors in early July.”

He wrote that the Obama administration recognizes that the next economic boom may be in Africa and wants to “motivate US enterprises to participate in the African renaissance.”.

China-Africa trade ballooned to $166.3 billion in 2011, as African exports to China jumped to more than $93 billion.

Chinese direct investment in the continent has exceeded $15 billion, with investment projects covering 50 countries.

In July, President Hu Jintao announced that China will provide $20 billion in loans to help African countries develop infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, and small and medium-sized enterprises.

Accompanying Clinton were a number of US trade representatives. US Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank is expected to arrive in Africa soon, becoming the first US commerce minister to visit the continent.

Some US analysts rejected the idea that the US and China are competing for resources in Africa.

Morgan Roach, an African studies expert at the Heritage Foundation, said the Obama administration largely continued the Africa strategy of the past administration.

“There wasn’t anything new and was a missed opportunity. Africa has changed a lot in the past decade and the United States needs a strategy that reflects this,” she said.

She said there is a common misperception that the US and China are in competition in Africa.

“It suggests that they have the same interests. They don’t. China perceives Africa as an ideal investment opportunity, where it can work quickly and efficiently with African leaders. In the United States, relative good governance, respect for the rule of law and human rights are prerequisites for engagement, economic or otherwise,” she said.

“China often has more in common, at least ideologically, with African leaders than the United States does. This not only facilitates trade and economic growth, but leads to further cooperation in other areas of foreign policy for example, the United Nations,” she said.

Douglas Paal, vice-president of studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that Clinton’s trip is “of no compelling strategic significance” as she is about to complete her term as secretary of state.

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