The United States thinks China is a “pernicious economic competitor with no morals” whose booming investments in Africa are propping up unsavoury regimes, according to a leaked diplomatic cable.
The frank assessment by the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Johnnie Carson, was among the latest revelations in thousands of documents released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
“China is a very aggressive and pernicious economic competitor with no morals. China is not in Africa for altruistic reasons,” Carson said in a February meeting with oil executives in Nigeria.
“China is in Africa for China primarily,” he said, according to a confidential February 23 cable written by the US consul-general in Lagos.
Carson said another reason was to “secure votes in the United Nations from African countries” to forward China’s own aims, and also to depress diplomatic support for its rival Taiwan.
Beijing had pumped a total of $9.3 billion (about R64 billion) into Africa by the end of last year, according to the China-Africa Trade and Economic Relationship Annual Report 2010, launched in October by a government-linked research institute.
Investment in the continent reached $1.44 billion last year alone, compared with $220 million in 2000, the report said, reflecting China’s growing interest in Africa’s resources to fuel its fast-growing economy.
More than 1 600 Chinese businesses are investing in Africa in the mining, processing, commerce, agriculture, construction and manufacturing sectors, state media has said, citing the commerce ministry.
China has been criticised by the West for its support of hardline leaders such as Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, but many African leaders praise Beijing for not preaching to them over human rights.
“The United States will continue to push democracy and capitalism while Chinese authoritarian capitalism is politically challenging,” Carson said.
Beijing pursues a “contrarian” approach by dealing with the “Mugabes and Bashirs of the world”, he said.
Beijing reiterated earlier this week that it hoped the ongoing revelations from the cables leaked by WikiLeaks would not affect ties with the United States.
The Chinese foreign ministry had no immediate comment Thursday on the details of the messages on China’s policies in Africa.
It has thus far refused to comment on the specifics of the documents involving Beijing.
Carson said the United States had “trip wires” in terms of China’s presence in Africa.
“Is China developing a blue-water navy? Have they signed military base agreements? Are they training armies? Have they developed intelligence operations?” he said.
“Once these areas start developing, then the United States will start worrying,” he said, though noting for the time being, Washington did not perceive China as a “military, security or intelligence threat”.
Another cable sent by the US ambassador to Kenya on February 17 said Nairobi had received weapons and ammunition from China in support of its “Jubaland initiative”, referring to a Somali border province.
The east African state has also received telecoms and computer equipment from China for its intelligence services, the memo said.
The cable says a Chinese telecoms firm was granted a contract for landline monitoring equipment with the help of corrupt officials, one of whom received monthly payments of more than $5 000 used to pay “medical bills”.
Le Monde identified the Chinese company as ZTE.
The name of the company has been redacted out of the cable that appears on the WikiLeaks site.
ZTE and its Chinese rival Huawei have been trying to boost their presence in the United States, despite opposition from US lawmakers concerned about possible threats to national security.