US plans to counter spread of Chinese and Russian influence in Africa, says top official

US National Security Adviser John Bolton
US National Security Adviser John Bolton

WASHINGTON/BEIJING • The United States plans to counter the rapidly expanding Chinese and Russian economic and political influence in Africa, said US National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Washington's No. 1 priority will be developing economic ties with the region to create opportunities for American businesses and protecting the independence of African countries, along with US national security interests, he said in a speech at The Heritage Foundation, a public policy think-tank.

"Great-power competitors, namely China and Russia, are rapidly expanding their financial and political influence across Africa," Mr Bolton said. "They are deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States."

US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have been trying to resolve trade disputes that have roiled markets.

"China uses bribes, opaque agreements and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing's wishes and demands. Its investment ventures are riddled with corruption," Mr Bolton said.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China's cooperation with Africa was about helping the continent develop and had been widely praised there.

"When we talk about cooperation with Africa, what we mostly talk about is what does Africa need, like agricultural modernisation," Mr Lu told a daily news briefing.

"But the US person, apart from talking about the United States' own needs, wasn't thinking about Africa, but about China and Russia."

China will continue its friendly, mutually beneficial cooperation with Africa, no matter what anyone else says, Mr Lu added.

Mr Xi's Belt and Road Initiative, unveiled in 2013, aims to build an infrastructure network connecting China by land and sea to South-east Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

Mr Bolton had equally harsh words for Russia. "Across the continent, Russia advances its political and economic relationships with little regard for the rule of law or accountable and transparent governance," he said.

He accused Moscow of selling arms and energy in exchange for votes at the United Nations "that keep strongmen in power, undermine peace and security, and run counter to the best interests of the African people".

AGGRESSIVE TACTICS

Great-power competitors, namely China and Russia, are rapidly expanding their financial and political influence across Africa... They are deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States.

US NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER JOHN BOLTON

Mr Bolton said "predatory practices" by China and Russia stunt economic growth in Africa and threaten the nations' economic independence.

He said the US was developing the "Prosper Africa" initiative to support US investment in Africa and a growing middle class in the region. He gave no details.

Mr Judd Devermont, director of the Africa Programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the release of an Africa strategy was welcome after two years of "conflicting narratives" by the administration.

But he was disappointed that China dominated Mr Bolton's presentation, which lacked details on US plans.

Said Mr Grant Harris, a former adviser on Africa to former president Barack Obama: "You can't counter a multifaceted, long-term Chinese play just by increasing investment. Washington needs to understand that China is investing in relationships, not just infrastructure."

Mr Bolton said the administration will ensure that US aid is used more efficiently and effectively, with investments in health, education, government and fiscal transparency measures, and rule of law.

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2018, with the headline 'US plans to counter spread of Chinese and Russian influence in Africa, says top official'. Print Edition | Subscribe