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US Encouraged to Seek Chinese Support for Good Governance in Africa

China and the West are beginning to compete for markets -- and oil -- in Africa. Some political activists in the West complain that Chinese economic and political support sometimes goes to governments with poor human rights records. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States and other Western countries have tied aid -- and trade -- to promises of "good governance" -- including free market reforms, political democratization, and curbing corruption.

But an official of the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) says this does not have to be the case.

Dave Peterson is senior director for Africa at the NED -- which is a private nonprofit organization that works to strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through nongovernmental efforts.

English to Africa reporter Angel Tabe asked him how the continent’s growing relationship with China affects existing diplomatic ties with the US and other western countries. “Clearly, the Chinese influence in Africa is increasing a great deal, and that gives African countries some other options in terms of their own diplomacy…. There is a lot of oil that is at stake…and so there is certainly competition over resources. In terms of the political influence, the two go together.”

Asked whether China’s refusal to tie aid to “good governance” undermines western efforts to do so, and whether China should be encouraged or pressed to change, Peterson says the US approach of dialogue is more productive and the State Department should continue the discussions in order to avoid conflict. He adds, “I don’t know how willing the Chinese are to cooperate in these issues, but it is certainly worth pursuing.”

Peterson says because China is a developing country with a different economic model, it will try, in forums like the United Nations, to present itself as an ally of Africa and other developing countries in order to pursue its own interests. He advises western countries to treat this issue with more humility than hypocrisy: “For many years, western governments also were not concerned with democracy and human rights in Africa…but there is a change. The United States and other countries are beginning to [express concern over these issues]. If China can also be brought along, Africa would be better off and the international community in general should be united on this issues."