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POLITICS-AFRICA: U.S., China Should Coordinate Policies

Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, May 30 2008 (IPS) - Amid growing concerns over big-power competition for access to Africa's immense energy and mineral resources, the U.S. and Chinese governments are being urged to better coordinate their policies toward the continent.

The two powers should focus on cooperation on several fronts, including enhancing the effectiveness of their economic aid and investment, furthering political stability, and ensuring the success of peacekeeping operations in the region, according to a new report by two U.S. experts released here this week.

Such collaboration should also be carried out, where possible, in consultation with other powers that have major interests in Africa. These include the European Union, Japan, and Canada, as well as still others, notably India, South Korea, and Brazil, whose links to the region are poised to grow sharply in the coming years, according to the 14-page report, "Responding to China in Africa," which will be expanded later this year into a book.

"It is (also) essential that Africans are part of any U.S.-China dialogue aimed at suggesting collaborative policies towards Africa," according to the report co-authored by ret. Amb. David Shinn and Joshua Eisenmann of the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC).

In what some commentators have already compared to the nineteenth-century scramble for Africa by Europe's imperialist powers, the continent has attracted unprecedented attention in recent years for its untapped oil, gas, and mineral wealth.

While Europe and the U.S. have long been the main external sources of aid and investment in Africa – as well as political intrigue and military adventures – their historic dominance is now being challenged by other actors.


Just this week, for example, energy-starved Japan is hosting a trade-and-aid summit in Yokohama with more than 40 African heads of state vying for some four billion dollars in concessional loans and another 2.5 billion dollars in grants and other aid that Tokyo plans to invest in the region.

Japan's meeting follows an unprecedented "India-Africa Forum Summit" last month that drew 14 African heads of state. At stake were offers of some 500 million dollars in development assistance and another five billion dollars in credit for future, Delhi-sponsored projects.

But China, which initiated its own Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) back in 2000 and whose bilateral trade with Africa has mushroomed from 10 billion dollars in that year to some 70 billion dollars in 2007, has made by far the biggest splash of the non-Western powers. Given current trends, Beijing, which has been increasing its exports to Africa, as well, is expected to displace the U.S. as Africa's biggest bilateral trade partner by 2010.

While China's investment in the continent has been relatively modest – about 13 billion dollars as of late last year, most of it concentrated in energy-related projects in Sudan and West Africa – it is poised to rise sharply, according to the report.

Fuelled by the highest sustained growth rates in modern history, China's economy is increasingly dependent on access to Africa's resources. The region already accounts for more than a third of China's oil imports. By contrast, the United States currently gets about 15 percent of its foreign oil from Africa, all of it from West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea. That figure is expected to rise to 25 percent by 2015.

Statistics like those have had many analysts worried that the U.S. and China are engaged in a potentially fierce struggle for influence in the region.

Those worries have been played down by the two countries' leaders, with Bush declaring during his trip to Africa in February that Washington does "not view Africa as zero-sum for China and the United States", a phrase recently echoed as well by Beijing's ambassador here.

At the same time, however, Washington's decision to create a separate military command for Africa (Africom) – as well as growing military ties between China and key African countries, mainly in the form of training and sales of small arms and light weapons – has fuelled concerns that a burgeoning geo-strategic competition is indeed underway.

The new report, which is based on interviews with more than 250 experts, government officials, business executives, and civil-society representatives in China, seven African countries, the U.S. and Europe, suggests a number of areas where Washington and Beijing could cooperate in Africa.

On aid to the continent, it suggests the U.S. make a greater effort to engage China in discussing how to coordinate assistance, including debt policies, and encourage investment both through the World Bank, which has already taken such an initiative, and the relevant committees of Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) to which Beijing should be invited to join, "at least as an observer".

In addition, the U.S. and China should identify several specific projects on which they could collaborate directly. The two countries have already discussed such cooperation on agricultural projects in Angola and Ethiopia, according to the report, but could also consider public health projects, given both Washington's multi-billion-dollar programme to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in Africa and China's successful malaria-control record and its long-term history of sending medical teams to Africa.

The two countries should also initiate a dialogue involving relevant African countries on the best way to develop the latter's natural resources, particularly in oil and gas, given the U.S. and China's status as Africa's biggest customers in those two areas. Washington should also actively engage with Beijing to support the multinational Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) to improve accountability in that sector.

The report urges both countries to identify specific African countries threatened by instability to coordinate steps to prevent or mitigate conflict there. It notes that Washington and Beijing have already worked together – with only limited success – to persuade Sudan to accept deployment of a U.N.-authorised force to Darfur and suggests that the two powers also share a strong mutual interest to ensure the success of the increasingly shaky Comprehensive Peace Agreement for ending the north-south conflict in Sudan, from which China last year obtained six percent of its total oil imports.

On security and military issues, the report calls for cooperation in maritime operations to reduce smuggling, piracy and drug trafficking off Africa's coasts. It notes that the U.S. and Chinese militaries have already collaborated in Liberia to improve that country's armed forces as part of the U.N.'s peacekeeping effort there and suggests that that model could be replicated elsewhere in Africa. China currently has nearly 1,500 troops in Africa, more than any other permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

Beijing and Washington could also coordinate more closely in carrying out disaster relief operations in the region, the report urged.

 
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