U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she is concerned by Chinese aid and investment policies in Africa.
Trade was a centerpiece of Secretary Clinton's trip to Africa this week as she met with business leaders to discuss continuing duty-free access to U.S. markets under the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
So it is no surprise that everywhere she went - in Zambia, in Tanzania and in Ethiopia - Clinton was asked about the country that has overtaken the United States as Africa's top trading partner: China.
"China's presence in Africa reflects the reality that it has important and growing interests here on the continent including access to resources and markets as well as developing closer diplomatic ties. The United States does not see these Chinese interests as inherently incompatible with our own interests,” she said.
Chinese-African trade rose more than 40 percent, last year, to nearly $127 billion. Much of that was centered on mineral and oil exports, as Beijing looks to fuel its massive economy.
Secretary Clinton says the Obama administration hopes that China will be successful in its economic efforts on behalf of the Chinese people and that it will assume a greater, and more responsible role in addressing challenges in Africa.
"We are, however, concerned that China's foreign assistance and investment practices in Africa have not always been consistent with generally accepted international norms of transparency and good governance. And, that it has not always utilized the talents of the African people in pursuing its business interests,” he said.
Large Chinese construction projects in Africa often employ Chinese workers housed at the site. African trade unions have complained that those projects do not create jobs or job training for local workers.
Clinton says U.S. diplomats in Africa are reaching out to Chinese colleagues to explore potential areas of cooperation while assessing China's overall role in Africa.
"We want to work more closely with China and other countries to make sure that when we are engaged with Africa, we are doing it in a sustainable manner that will benefit the nations and people of Africa,” she said.
Although Washington has been replaced as Africa's top trading partner, it is still Africa's largest aid donor. Clinton says U.S. investment and assistance programs in Africa are based on partnership, not patronage, unlike those who deal only with Africa's elites and often undermine good governance.
"It is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave. And, when you leave, you don't leave much behind for the people who are there. You don't improve the standard of living. You don't create a ladder of opportunity. We don't want to see a new colonialism in Africa,” said Clinton.
An editorial in the state-run English-language China Daily newspaper, responding to Clinton's comments, says China has never colonized any nation in Africa. The editorial says, on the contrary, it is well known to African people and the world that China has helped Africa build many schools and hospitals.
The editorial says many African governments regard Chinese investment as an opportunity and welcome Beijing's consistent policy of noninterference in domestic affairs. It says the strategic partnership with Africa has nothing to do with neocolonialism and is instead based on principles of sincerity, friendship and mutual benefit on an equal footing.
The state-run newspaper says the African people are wise enough to be able to identify who are their true friends. It says, “They don't need lectures in this regard.”