Battle for Africa
WASHINGTON, DC – December 14, 2018
China and Russia are working to strengthen their influence in Africa in hopes of bypassing the US in terms of investment and other indicators, Trump’s top advisor warns, calling this trend part of the efforts of both countries to reorganize the world order.
In Africa, both countries are trying to show themselves as viable, if not irreplaceable, alternatives to the United States.
"Great power competitors, namely China and Russia, are rapidly expanding their financial and political influence across Africa," US National Security Advisor John Bolton said on Thursday. "They are deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States."
Bolton offered his remarks in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, a think tank based in Washington, just two weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping and his American counterpart Donald Trump reached a tentative agreement during the G20 meetings in Buenos Aires, Argentina, not to escalate the two countries’ months-long trade war.
"The predatory practices pursued by China and Russia stunt economic growth in Africa, threaten the financial independence of African nations, inhibit opportunities for US investment, interfere with US military operations, and pose a significant threat to US national security interests," Bolton said.
"Across the continent, Russia advances its political and economic relationships with little regard for the rule of law or accountable and transparent governance," he added.
Bolton went on to claim that Moscow had sold arms and energy in exchange for votes at the United Nations, "votes that keep strongmen in power, undermine peace and security, and run counter to the best interests of the African people."
But Bolton’s most extensive comments were reserved for China.
Concerns about the increasing influence of China in Africa have been rising for a long time. In September last year, US intelligence warned that China's first foreign military base in Doral, Eastern Djibouti, is likely to be only the first of many.
From the point of view of the African Command, the situation in Djibouti is perhaps the most disturbing. US military base Camp Lemonierre is there -- the only permanent US military base on the African continent which plays the role of a hub for counter-terrorism operations. The Chinese military base in Doral is located "right at the gate" of the American base.
Bolton confirmed these fears. For example, he said, a port in Djibouti on the Red Sea might give control over to a Chinese state-owned enterprise. "Should this occur, the balance of power in the Horn of Africa – a major artery of maritime trade between Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia – would shift in favour of China," he said.
Africa is one of the main targets of China’s "Belt and Road Initiative." a program of transcontinental infrastructure development and investment which Xi launched in 2013. The plan also intends to improve infrastructure that connects China to Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
During a trip to Africa in September, Xi pledged $60 billion in financing for projects on the continent in the form of help, investment, and loans.
Xi also said during the trip that belt and road was to promote "common prosperity" in a world that faces "unilateralism and protectionism," an expression Beijing commonly uses to refer to trade policies of the Trump administration.
A report issued by Citigroup this week pegged China’s total loans, equity investments and aid to Africa at $60 billion in 2015, up from a third of that amount in 2012, and said Beijing was likely to speed up belt and road-related infrastructure projects on the continent amid trade tensions with the US.
Washington intends to offer African countries an alternative to their partnership with Beijing and Moscow. According to Bolton, the concept of American strategy in the region is "independence, autonomy and growth," not "domination and debt."
The United States plans to confront Russia and China by reforming external support programs while deepening economic and security ties.
Basically, the strategy will be implemented through trade, not loans and subsidies. In addition, Washington's goal will be to support US investment across the continent, the growth of the middle class and the improvement of the business climate in the region.
In October, the US Congress passed and Trump signed into law the BUILD Act, which creates a new development agency – the US International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) – seen at least in part as a response to China’s belt and road strategy.
The act set the IDFC’s spending cap at $60 billion, more than double the $29 billion funding cap of its predecessor agency, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). It also gave the agency authority to invest equity in development projects, instead of just providing loans.
Also on Thursday, OPIC, which will be subsumed into the IDFC next year, announced it had approved more than $1.3 billion in financing and political risk insurance across six projects, including $430 million in insurance to Egypt to support the restoration, operation, and maintenance of a natural gas pipeline.