The Chinese government and its tightly controlled media outlets were not pleased with National Security Adviser John Bolton’s Thursday speech on Africa policy. Bolton accused China and Russia of exploiting Africa with “predatory policies” that stunt the growth of African nations and threaten their independence.
The Chinese shot back that Western powers continue to see Africa as a “colony” and treat it as the playing field for a political game against rising China.
China’s Xinhua News did not care for Bolton’s “hostile and competitive tone,” quoting the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s retort that saintly China only wants the best for Third World nations:
In response, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang stressed, “What China cares about is African countries’ needs, such as industrialization and agricultural modernization.”
“In contrast, it is interesting to see from the remarks of some Americans that, besides its own interests and demands, the U.S. is concerned about China and Russia rather than Africa,” Lu added.
He recalled that during the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the General Debate of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly, many African leaders articulated their countries’ desire for development and appreciation of China’s support.
As facilitating Africa’s peace and development is the common responsibility of the international community, China has always adopted an open-minded attitude toward Africa-related international cooperation, and believed that all parties’ investments in the continent on the basis of respect should be welcome, Lu said.
“Meanwhile, cooperation should be carried out on the premise of Africa’s will and needs and without any political strings attached and interference in internal affairs,” he added.
The spokesperson reiterated that as mutually-beneficial cooperation moves forward, China will continue to build relations with Africa based on sincerity, affinity and good faith, uphold justice and pursue shared interests.
China’s Global Times dismissed Bolton’s concerns as “groundless,” insisted Beijing only wants mutually beneficial deals with African nations, and claimed China is not averse to increased African trade and investment by the United States and its allies:
Africa is no longer a colony where the US and European countries can obtain slaves. Countries on the continent need to develop and they have the right to conduct economic cooperation with other countries around the world. The US’ new strategy clearly regards Africa as a sphere of influence of the US; viewing the continent as if it is still a colony of the West. Bolton’s remarks once again convey the US’ contempt for Africa.
Washington should respect China and Russia and the right of African countries to choose. They are independent members of the international community. The support provided by the US and other Western countries to Africa’s development is far too little. It’s an inalienable right for the people of Africa to seek funding and technological support from others. The US and European elites have never really cared about Africa’s development, nor have they truly respected African countries as equal partners. They would rather keep Africa in a long-term backward state, have Western democratic governance imposed on them and subjugate the continent to Western requirements for economic assistance.
The new type of cooperation between emerging countries, such as China and African countries, has changed the past situation in which African nations could only rely on the West, which has deeply upset the US and Europe. They slander China by accusing it of plundering resources and creating a “debt trap.”
The debt trap feels quite real to the people of Djibouti, where many U.S. officials other than Bolton fear China is using its economic leverage to squeeze the United States out of a strategically vital Red Sea port, as the Washington Post reported on Friday:
“The Djiboutians are up to their neck in debt to China,” Reuben Brigety, former U.S. ambassador to the African Union told The Washington Post. Brigety said he expects this leverage to be used to force the Djiboutian government to hand control of the port to a Chinese company within the next six months.
“The Chinese will eventually use that enormously important strategic position to crowd out U.S. military operations,” Brigety said.
Handing over the operation of the port would not only allow China to constrain operations at Camp Lemonnier, Brigety explained, it would also have economic consequences in the region. The ports in Djibouti are a major transit point for goods shipped to Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country.
“The United States is asleep at the switch while all of this is happening,” Brigety said in November, before the Trump administration announced the new Africa strategy.
Forbes noted on Thursday that America still sends vastly more money to Africa than China does. Chinese loans to African governments and state-run enterprises over the past ten years total up to about $143 billion, while American citizens, foundations, and companies donated $410 billion to Africa in 2017 alone.
The difference is that those American donations were not deliberate efforts to build up leverage against African governments and purchase the favor of their political elites. For all of China’s caterwauling about its “slanderous” implications, the plan outlined by Bolton on Thursday is an effort to give African nations an alternative to China and reduce Beijing’s leverage, not a plan to build an equally ugly but more powerful American answer to China’s debt imperialism.