With Beijing’s astonishing investments in ports, roads and railways throughout Africa, the US warns, come dependency, exploitation and intrusion on nations’ basic sovereignty.
“We are not in any way attempting to keep Chinese investment dollars out of Africa. They are badly needed,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said this week in the Ethiopian capital. “However, we think it’s important that African countries carefully consider the terms.”
Tillerson and other US officials say Chinese firms, unlike American ones, don’t abide by anti-bribery laws, fueling Africa’s pervasive problems with corruption. And if countries run into financial trouble, they often lose control over their own infrastructure by defaulting to a lender that historically has not always been forgiving. Some African countries now owe sums double that of their annual economic output, the US has said, with most debt owed to China.
China, unlike the United States, is showing up on the continent with a generous checkbook in hand. Given the unpredictability involved in investing in poorer countries, China is often the only one willing to take the risk. And African nations realize that China’s investments don’t come with the same nagging about human rights and good governance that often accompanies US assistance.
The eye-popping investments through China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, believed to run into the trillions of dollars, form just one part of the Asian power’s bid to promote a new global system that puts Beijing at the center. Equally alarming to the US are China’s military designs.
There are obvious reasons why the United States would want to cast itself and its companies as a more favorable alternative to China, the geopolitical rival and economic competitor whose influence is also on the rise in Latin America, Europe and the Middle East.