How Did China Outperform the United States in Africa?
"Moscow and Beijing could use "economic influence, coercion, and mixed methods to advance their interests in the African region."
While aiming to punish and isolate Russia over the Ukraine war, the United States has also expanded its attention to Africa to remove Moscow from the continent, which is witnessing much turmoil.
While Russia has previously begun to establish a foothold on the continent, Washington has tried to pressure African countries not to engage with Moscow and end its bilateral military ties with it.
However, China’s financial plans in the continent, often seen as an attractive alternative to the indifference to Washington’s policy, which dictates its policy with hard power, could accelerate again and fill the vacuum.
The Tigray conflict in Ethiopia is a clear sign of the faltering influence of the United States in Africa. The United States has long viewed Abiy Ahmed’s Ethiopian government as an important ally.
However, while sanctioning Addis Ababa for its alleged role in the Tigray conflict, Washington failed to provide sufficient diplomacy to end the conflict despite its influence in the region.
After peace talks on the conflict in October, Russia and China opposed a UN Security Council statement condemning Addis Ababa’s current operations in its Tigray region, showing how Moscow and Beijing, in particular, have consolidated their influence in the region under Washington’s faltering influence.
In the most serious conflicts in which the United States could play a larger role, American diplomacy has been inadequate.
In Libya, apparent US indifference has enabled Moscow to become a dominant player in the east of the country and even build ties with the West as well.
With warnings coming from within Western policy circles about the possibility that Russia and China could challenge US influence in Africa, NATO leaders warned that Moscow and Beijing could use “economic influence, coercion, and mixed methods to advance their interests in the region.”
Washington has also introduced a bill that would sanction African countries for doing business with Russia, in a bid to pressure non-aligned countries on the continent.
By default, at least for the most hawkish voices in NATO and Washington, China may cooperate with Russia on their Africa agenda.
However, although there are conflicting goals for both countries, the cooperation of both countries is arguably evidence of the shortcomings of Washington and the foreign policies of other Western powers on the continent.
Barack Obama, the former US president, “pivoted” toward Africa, Donald Trump, his predecessor, away from it, and Joe Biden, the current president of the United States, is in a worrying situation with the pandemic at home and the present conflict in Ukraine.
However, the commander of American forces in Africa highlighted China’s hegemony in a region crucial to American security and economic growth in a speech to lawmakers on Capitol Hill last April, and he issued a dire warning that Washington would be foolish to neglect Africa.
“China’s heavy investment in Africa as its ‘second continent,’ and heavy-handed pursuit of its ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative, is fueling Chinese economic growth, outpacing the US, and allowing it to exploit opportunities to their benefit,” US Africa Command Gen. Stephen Townsend told the House Committee on Appropriations, echoing comments he made last month to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Townsend’s comments coincide with a surge in Chinese engagement with Africa. Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, has met with seven African peers just in March.
This year, Wang Yi has traveled to three African nations. President Xi Jinping and the person in question had a phone conversation that was described as “constructive” last month.
Political editor Jon Fenton-Harvey wrote that with Russia’s limited financial capabilities, China is arguably a greater threat to US geostrategic interests in Africa than Russia, despite Washington’s focus on isolating Moscow.
Beijing has already surpassed both Moscow and Washington on the continent, according to the 2013 Belt and Road Initiative, a development project involving 70 countries.
Among Beijing’s moves are low-cost loans and large-scale infrastructure projects, including dozens of government buildings, that would help win the support of African countries. In fact, very few regions in Africa have not been affected by Chinese investment.
In Ethiopia, where US influence has clearly met deaf ears, China is a crucial investor. Beijing provided $13.7 billion in loans to Addis Ababa from 2000 to 2019; in the same period, Ethiopia’s per capita GDP saw an average annual increase of 9.3%.
Although China has backed away from supporting Ethiopia as it once was, Beijing’s loans and investments will not open up China’s vast trade routes on the continent, but it could give countries more confidence to defy Washington.
Indeed, Chinese loans and direct investment without political constraints have already largely balanced US aid, which often has more political conditions and demands for transparency. Having already boosted its soft power on the continent during the Covid pandemic by providing vaccines and other equipment, Africa’s economic crises amid shortages of food and basic items in the wake of the Ukraine war could make more Chinese aid and investment look more enticing over the next decade.
On the other hand, many believe that this will make many recipient countries dependent on China.
According to Johns Hopkins University’s China-Africa Research Initiative, CARI, Beijing canceled more than $3.4 billion in debt between 2000 and 2019, much of it in interest-free loans to African countries.
However, according to the study, Chinese state-owned lenders have restructured or refinanced the continent’s countries by $15 billion.