China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang finished a visit to Africa on Jan. 16, while U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will begin a visit to three African nations this week [Jan. 17-Jan.28]. For the 33rd year in a row, China’s foreign minister has made Africa the destination for the first visit of the year. The U.S. does not have a similar practice. But ahead of Yellen’s visit, U.S. media outlets have one after the other taken it upon themselves to mention Qin’s visit, comparing the two and setting the tone for Yellen’s trip as vital to “countering China’s influence in the developing world.” This only serves to once again confirm the outside world’s impression that U.S. diplomacy is on the verge of being reduced to chewing gum stuck to the sole of China’s diplomatic shoes.
This year could be said to be a year of intensive U.S. diplomatic efforts in Africa. After Yellen, President Joe Biden and a number of senior U.S. officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, will travel to Africa. On the surface it may seem like Africa is receiving unprecedented attention, but in reality, what is more striking is Africa’s status as a strategic tool in Washington’s deeply entrenched game of the great powers. It is an obvious fact that the motives driving this little surge in U.S. diplomacy with Africa are not pure. When the U.S. media report on U.S. diplomatic activities in Africa and other regions, they inevitably mention that it is to “counter China’s influence,” which has basically become a stock phrase.
A month ago, the U.S. hosted a U.S.-Africa summit in Washington. More than 40 African leaders were invited, and some wonderful-sounding promises were made at the meeting. As we all know, the U.S. modeled the U.S.-Africa summit on the success of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. Although the Biden administration has repeatedly said that the U.S. is not in Africa to “compete with other countries” and avoids talking about “confronting China,” in reality it has not changed its zero-sum game mentality and has been discrediting, restricting and undermining China at every turn. It is letting the cat out of the bag, exposing the true face of U.S. diplomacy with Africa and not bothering to hide it. It is an ugly look. It is not only a malicious representation of China but also shows great disrespect to African countries.
As the first event to “boost U.S.-Africa relations” after the U.S.-Africa summit, U.S. Treasury officials told the media that Yellen’s visit is aimed at providing sustainable, high-quality investment. They then switched to declaring that China’s “debt problem” in Africa would be a key topic of Yellen’s visit. Senior U.S. officials also say that Washington plans to offer African leaders more sustainable options than China. In other words, Africa’s importance depends less on its own economic and developmental potential and more on U.S. perception of the strength of the “Chinese threat” or “Chinese influence.” Given this context, it is hard to say what the U.S. will genuinely do for Africa’s development.
Yellen will visit three countries this time. Senegal has the rotating presidency of the African Union and South Africa is the most powerful country in Africa, so it is not difficult to understand why these were arranged. However, the reason for going to Zambia is not without some shady motives on Washington’s part. Zambia’s serious debt problem has given Washington the opportunity to sow division. Western officials, including Yellen, have “severely criticized China” over Zambia’s debt issue. Purely to pick a fight, the U.S. has turned a blind eye to China’s efforts and success in coordinating debt relief for African countries such as Zambia.
Foreign Minister Qin specifically responded to this issue during his visit to Africa, saying that China has always been committed to helping Africa reduce its debt pressure. China has actively participated in the debt relief initiative of the Group of 20, signed debt relief agreements or reached consensus on debt relief with 19 African countries and is the leading G-20 country in terms of the amount of debt relief implemented. China has also actively participated in the G-20 common framework to deal with the debt of Chad, Ethiopia and Zambia on a case-by-case basis. In contrast to China’s responsible approach, we could probably conclude that Yellen’s trip to Zambia will not produce any constructive advice on the debt issue or come up with any real money to help Zambia. But it could disturb China-Zambia relations and throw out those same old clichés that slander China. Let us hope we are wrong about Yellen and the U.S.
Africa has many development opportunities and great potential, but there are also many challenges and problems. If you really wanted, in good faith, to help African nations, would you worry about finding the right time and place for it? Do you have to ride on China’s coattails? Do you think the people of Africa are stupid when you are treating Africa as a wrestling ring for the great powers to fight in, under the pretext of helping them? Washington, please stop showing contempt for the intelligence, judgment and autonomy of African people.
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