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Clinton Answers China's Challenge in Africa

  • Terry Wing

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the University of Dakar, in Dakar, Senegal, August 1, 2012.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the University of Dakar, in Dakar, Senegal, August 1, 2012.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told leaders in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, on Wednesday that Africa’s best hope for economic prosperity lies with democratic institutions and open markets.

Underlying her message was a challenge to China’s increasing influence on the continent.

Dakar was the first stop on an 11-day Africa tour for Secretary Clinton, and the unabashed theme of her trip is to make sure African leaders know the difference between deals made with the United States and those made with China.

The challenge that Clinton faces is daunting.

China’s Economic Clout

China surpassed the United States in 2009 to become Africa’s largest trading partner. Chinese aid and investment in Africa have also grown rapidly.

Chinese officials announced last month that some 2,000 Chinese companies now have dealings in Africa, with investments totaling $14.7 billion - an increase of 60 percent in two years.

Washington was also caught by surprise last month when Chinese Premier Hu Jintao announced to 50 African leaders at a forum in Beijing his promise to provide $20 billion in foreign aid -- twice as much as was promised three years earlier.

At the heart of China’s aggressive move in Africa is its plan to gain access to the continent’s rich energy and mineral resources needed to drive its own rapid economic expansion.

African leaders, like South African President Jakob Zuma, have been impressed by what they call China’s willingness to treat them like equals. It was a pointed criticism at Western ways of the past.

Addressing Senagalese leaders on Wednesday, Clinton said those days are over.

“The days of having outsiders come and extract the wealth of Africa for themselves, leaving nothing or very little behind, should be over in the 21st century," she said.

Clinton’s Warning

Clinton cited pledge made by U.S. President Barack Obama during a landmark speech on Africa during a 2009 visit to Ghana. Obama said that the United States would offer Africa "partnership, not patronage."

Clinton said the president's comments then should be headed now when African leaders consider doing business with Chinese companies.

"Throughout my trip across Africa this week, I will be talking about what that means - about a model of sustainable partnership that adds value, rather than extracts it," she said.

Clinton never mentioned China by name during her Dakar address. Still it was obvious who she was talking about when she drew political comparisons the two rivals.

“Over the long run you cannot have effective economic liberalization without political liberalization. Without the rule of law, people with a good business idea or money to invest cannot trust that contracts will be honored and corruption punished… or that regulations will be transparent and disputes resolved fairly," Clinton told her Senegalese hosts.

WShe encouraged African leaders to view democratic reform as a key to sustainable development, and not as an afterthought.

The American Advantage

In the past U.S. officials, including Clinton, have expressed deep reservations over China's exploitation of Africa's raw materials without regard for human rights and democratic principles.

In Dakar, Clinton acknowledged that U.S. policies haven’t always lined up with its principles. But she said Washington wants to build relationships that are not “transactional or transitory,” and are built on values not shared with its Asian competitior.

“They are built on a foundation on shared democratic values and respect for the universal human rights of every man and woman,” Clinton said.

Clinton’s message is what Washington sees as its competitive advantage over China – the belief that Africa’s best chance for achieving good governance and better living standards lie with partners like the United States.

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