Thursday, August 21, 2014

US versus China in Africa

The National Interest published on 17 August 2014 a commentary titled "Five Reasons Why the United States Can't Beat China in Africa" by Zachary Keck, managing editor of The Diplomat.

Unfortunately, the title of the article misses the point.  The United States is not trying to "beat" China in Africa.  There are areas of competition such as competing for contracts just as there is US competition with companies from the UK, France, and Germany.  In the final paragraph of the article, the author writes: "In sum, the U.S.-Africa Leaders summit notwithstanding, the United States cannot compete with China in Africa."  Even if you accept the premise of the article, it is silly to suggest that the United States cannot even "compete" with China.  Fortunately, the author goes on to say that the United States does not have to compete with China as the two countries' interests are not zero sum.  This should be the real point of the article. 

Going back to my problem with the title in the event you are inclined to agree that the United States must "beat" China in Africa, the data to support this case are cherry-picked.  The argument depends heavily on China's growing and America's declining trade with Africa and the fact that China has more high level visits to Africa.  These points are valid.  But there is no mention of the fact that US aid to Africa in recent years has been running at about $8 billion annually versus an estimated $2.5 billion from China.  Cumulative US investment is still larger than cumulative Chinese investment in Africa.  And whether you agree with the policies or not, the United States has a deeper security relationship with most African countries.  China has far more peacekeepers assigned to UN missions in Africa, but Washington pays about 28 percent of UN peacekeeping operations while Beijing pays only 6 percent. 

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