US Seeks to Counter Growing Chinese Influence in Africa

December 13, 2018 Updated: December 13, 2018
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WASHINGTON—The Trump administration wants to see an increase in U.S. investment and trade in Africa as part of a new strategy aimed at countering China’s growing influence on the continent.

National security adviser John Bolton is expected to lay out priorities on Dec. 13 for what the administration calls “the continent of the future” during remarks at the Heritage Foundation.

Addressing members of Congress on Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State Tibor Nagy warned of China’s increasing economic, military and political influence in Africa, a continent with some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and trillions of dollars’ worth of natural resources.

“One of the things that really, really irritated me during my trips to Africa is you go to an African city and there is a stadium invariably built by the Chinese,” Nagy told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

He said African countries will benefit from increased investment by U.S. companies and projects that will create jobs and bring higher environmental and business standards.

“We must remain a positive alternative and make clear that engaging with the United States will mean greater prosperity and security for Africa,” Nagy said. “Our potential in Africa is limitless.”

Africa is facing a “demographic tsunami,” he said, with the continent’s population expected to double by 2050 to some 2.5 billion people, half under the age of 24. That is why, he said, it was important to create jobs and opportunities for them.

Congress passed legislation earlier this year creating a $60 billion international development agency, widely viewed as a response to Chinese overseas development programs.

China opened its first overseas military base last year in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, the site of the only permanent U.S. military base on the continent.

As Beijing and others seek to grow their military presence, the U.S. is pulling back. The Pentagon in November said it planned a 10 percent cut in the U.S. Africa Command’s total force of 7,200 troops, to be carried out over several years, as its global focus shifts from counterterrorism to perceived threats from Russia and China.

In the meantime, “China has been doubling down on Africa across the board with a dramatic commercial strategy combined with increased arms sales, linkages to political parties and cultural exchanges,” said Grant Harris, former senior director for African affairs at the White House during the Obama administration. “The U.S. needs to show itself to be the better long-term partner to African states.”

Jennifer Cooke, director of the Institute for African Studies at George Washington University, said the U.S. should avoid trying to be too transactional.

“We are not going to beat China at its own game, which is massive investments and in infrastructure and roads, ports, railroads and vanity projects,” Cooke said. “What sets the U.S. apart has been a broader engagement, beyond government, looking at development, civil society and, frankly, serving as something of a moral authority on human rights, democracy and governance issues.”

By Maria Danilova & Cara Anna