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China No Threat to United States in Africa, U.S. Official Says

28 July 2005

Ranneberger tells Congress of areas of cooperation

By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Despite perceived rivalries, the United States and China are cooperating at a number of levels to end conflict and advance development in resource-rich Africa, a top U.S. State Department official told Congress July 28.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Michael Ranneberger told the House Africa Subcommittee that "as a natural result of its [economic] growth, China is increasingly involved in the global marketplace, seeking new markets for its goods and reliable sources of energy."  Both goals are "reflected in China's increased engagement across sub-Saharan Africa," he said.

However, "this should not be read as a threat" to U.S. economic and political interests in Africa, the official assured Chairman Christopher Smith (Republican of New Jersey).  In fact, he said, it can help to advance U.S. goals in Africa to the extent that it increases prosperity and stability on the continent, thus contributing to increased respect for human rights and individual freedoms.

Asked by Smith about rumors that China had threatened economic sanctions against African partners who criticized its human rights record and that the United States might "trade off" similar criticism for more cooperation on the continent, Ranneberger said, "I can absolutely assure you that will not happen."

He said, "There are of course times when our interests and China's will need to be the subject of dialogue," especially about its growing military support to the repressive regime of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.  "Certainly, the [Bush] administration will continue to work hard to address common challenges -- regional and global, economic and political -- with China.  And in those areas where we have differences, we strive to handle these issues in a candid and open dialogue," Ranneberger said.

He mentioned several areas of cooperation in Africa between the United States and China, including the following:

•  increased participation in United Nations peacekeeping on the continent, where China currently takes part in six operations, with 600 troops in Liberia;

•  growing financial support for the African Union and its development efforts; and

•  expansion of business and investment opportunities offered to African partners.

In the last area, Ranneberger said, it is important to note that "in many respects China's engagement is essentially classic Adam Smith [author of The Wealth of Nations, which launched the economic doctrine of free enterprise], value-free capitalism in action.  It's worth noting, too, that while we refer to 'China,' Chinese engagement also involves a wide range of private enterprises, semiprivate businesses, and local government entities that engage in trade not directly linked to official Chinese government policy."

Smith underscored his concerns over China's human-rights record as he told the panel, "Amidst all the hoopla over China's rapidly growing economy, there is a dark side to this country's economic expansion that is being largely ignored.

"China is playing an increasingly influential role on the continent of Africa and there is concern that the Chinese intend to aid and abet African dictators, gain a stranglehold on precious African natural resources, and undo much of the progress that has been made on democracy and governance in the last 15 years in African nations," the lawmaker said.

Representative Donald Payne (Democrat of New Jersey) voiced a similar concern over China's continued support of the Sudanese government's backing of organized violence in its Darfur region.  With China importing a sizable percentage of its oil from Sudan, Payne said, "China's involvement in Sudanese oil interests has been scandalous."

Asking rhetorically: "Are they our friends or our enemies?" Payne added, "These things [backing of the Khartoum regime] have to be carefully watched."

Representative Barbara Lee (Democrat of California) said Chinese influence in Africa is a natural result of decades of aid and political sympathy.  Between 1955 and 1977, when many Africans were fighting wars of colonial liberation, China provided more than $142 million in military aid to the Africans, she said, then asked, "Where was the U.S.?"

Over the years, "China has consistently supported African development," she added, "and since 2000 has canceled over $1 billion in bilateral debt to Africa."  It also funds the training of 10,000 African students in China, she said.

Turning back to economics, Ranneberger summed up the U.S. government's overall attitude, declaring: "China's growing presence in Africa is a reality, but it can increase the potential for collaboration between the United States and China as part of a broader, constructive bilateral relationship.  China should have many of the same interests in Africa as the United States, based, among other elements, on our shared reliance on a global oil market, shared desire to diversify sources from the Middle East and shared concern over volatile oil prices."

He added that those points "will be an important part of the conversation that Deputy Secretary [of State] Robert Zoellick will have in China August 1 and 2 as part of our new senior-level dialogue, where the deputy secretary and his counterparts will consider points of mutual interest and discuss how best to manage our differences."

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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