China looms over Clinton Africa tour

2012-08-05 22:29
Hillary clinton

Hillary clinton

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Cape Town - Although she did not mention China by name, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has prompted angry reactions from Beijing during her seven-nation tour of Africa.

During a speech in Senegal, at the start of the 11-day trip, Clinton advocated partnerships with the United States, which "will stand up for democracy and universal human rights, even when it might be easier or more profitable to look the other way".

"Not every partner makes that choice, but we do and we will," she added.

Her remarks drew a sharp response from Beijing. China's official new agency Xinhua said Clinton was taking "cheap shots" and had a hidden agenda.

"Whether Clinton was ignorant of the facts on the ground or chose to disregard them, her implication that China has been extracting Africa's wealth for itself is utterly wide of the truth," Xinhua wrote.

"Her remarks betrayed an attempt to drive a wedge between China and Africa for the US' selfish gain," Xinhua added, stressing that Beijing and Washington were bound by "friendship and equality".

China was providing sustainable aid to Africa through infrastructure development, the agency wrote.

Beijing recently announced $20bn in credit for Africa, replacing the US as the continent's most important economic partner. Trade volume between Africa and China shot up to $166bn in 2011.

"China is a very aggressive and pernicious economic competitor with no morals," US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson wrote as early as 2010, in a memo published by WikiLeaks.

Many headaches

Human rights organisations have also accused Beijing of showing few scruples in its choice of trading partners, which include internationally condemned states such as Zimbabwe and Sudan.

All this is seen as the subtext of Clinton's visit to China, in which commentators view an unspoken plan to prevent Chinese expansion in Africa, alongside her economic and security-driven agenda.

In any case, the African continent is presenting the US with numerous headaches. Clinton's agenda addresses the growing influence of Islamic extremists in Nigeria and Mali, trouble hotspots Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as inner-political tensions in countries such as Kenya and Ivory Coast.

Her journey aims to show that the US takes the continent very seriously. Many are disappointed that the first black US president, whose father is Kenyan, has only visited one sub-Saharan African country during his time in office - Ghana.

Behind the scenes however, the US has increased its engagement in Africa. Besides US Air Force bases in Burkina Faso, Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and on the Seychelles, the US has also expanded its network of military experts and agents.

US military personnel are helping Uganda track town rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army, while US drones and reconnaissance technology are being used against extremists in Somalia and other conflict zones.

"The trip by Clinton generally represents increased recognition by the Obama administration that Africa is now a global player," Jakkie Cilliers, director of the Institute for Security Studies, told the Mail & Guardian.

John Atta Mills

Her visit has spearheaded positive developments in East Africa, visiting South Sudan hours before it reached an agreement on oil deliveries with neighbouring Sudan; promoting stability in Somalia; and pushing for peaceful elections in Kenya.

These messages are to be reinforced during the remainder of her trip.

In Malawi, Clinton will meet the new president, Joyce Banda, who is leading the country from its turbulent recent history back to democratic stability.

In South Africa, she will meet former president Nelson Mandela, the very embodiment of African self-determination and reconciliation.

Even in Ghana, on the final leg of her tour, Clinton can draw on the recent death of president John Atta Mills, whose funeral she will attend. In the showcase country for democracy, Mills' sudden departure did not upset political stability.

Read more on:    hillary clinton  |  china  |  senegal  |  us

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