FOCAC Sino-Africa Summit Offers Opportunity to Reconsider US Africa Policy – Community News
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FOCAC Sino-Africa Summit Offers Opportunity to Reconsider US Africa Policy

Chinese leaders will meet Africa’s political, military and civilian elites this week in Dakar, Senegal, for the eighth meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). More African leaders have chosen to attend FOCAC than the United Nations General Assembly, given the former’s emphasis on cultivating partnerships based on national agendas.

For a long time, the main message from the United States to African countries has been “We are not Europe”, but since at least the early 2000s, China’s message to Africa has been “We are not the United States”. China has made an important process in Africa by speaking loudly and carrying a baton. Its public diplomacy campaigns focus on building relationships with African counterparts and broad media coverage of all forms of cooperation, while keeping sanctions and security obligations to a minimum.

In contrast, US President Joe Biden recently announced that Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea will be ineligible for duty-free trade access to the United States from January 1, 2022, due to human rights violations in the Ethiopian region of Tigray and unconstitutional military rule in both West African countries.

Chinese leaders will meet Africa’s political, military and civilian elites this week in Dakar, Senegal, for the eighth meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). More African leaders have chosen to attend FOCAC than the United Nations General Assembly, given the former’s emphasis on cultivating partnerships based on national agendas.

For a long time, the main message from the United States to African countries has been “We are not Europe”, but since at least the early 2000s, China’s message to Africa has been “We are not the United States”. China has made an important process in Africa by speaking loudly and carrying a baton. Its public diplomacy campaigns focus on building relationships with African counterparts and broad media coverage of all forms of cooperation, while keeping sanctions and security obligations to a minimum.

In contrast, US President Joe Biden recently announced that Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea will be ineligible for duty-free trade access to the United States from January 1, 2022, due to human rights violations in the Ethiopian region of Tigray and unconstitutional military rule in both West African countries.

It’s hard to imagine the last time many African countries had their head of state photographed with a US president, let alone received an invitation to visit Washington. Even when Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema came through Washington in September, he met Vice President Kamala Harris, but not Biden. And yet a regular meeting with the President of China is something any African leader (unrelated to Taiwan) can count on through FOCAC.

While FOCAC remains a successful tool for China’s Africa policy, it is a painful reminder of America’s diplomatic failings in Africa. The United States doesn’t need to create its own version of the forum to achieve the same successes, but it does need a policy toward Africa that capitalizes on America’s strengths and recognizes the importance of building relationships.

China has focused on economic engagements beyond security and normative concerns, as well as facetime with African leaders and people-to-people exchanges. At the last FOCAC event in 2018, China announced 50,000 government grants and 50,000 short-term training courses. These are offered to university students, law enforcement officers, government officials, medical personnel, agricultural extension workers and military personnel, among many others across Africa.

During fieldwork in Zimbabwe in June and July 2013, a senior official from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Agriculture said the majority of their staff were already in China for training, with many already going for their second round. This is undoubtedly a story that could be told in every ministry in every African country that has ties to China today. There is simply no comparison in terms of the depth and breadth of relationship-building China has developed over the past decade with African leaders and future leaders.

To achieve the same level of diplomatic success, the United States may need to move away from its punitive approach. More broadly, it could consider reassessing its reliance on measures such as the US sanctions currently in place against nine African countries, and Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea will soon be added to the list.

It may also be necessary to rethink a series of relationships that are primarily driven by security concerns and to think rather than economic. America’s counter-terrorism campaigns in Africa have done more to define Washington’s relations with African states than the election of the first black president. Since 9/11, the United States has built a network of approximately 29 military bases across the African continent. This network has necessarily been created in collaboration with local partners and plays a vital role in supporting local efforts to build security in many regions. It emphasizes the United States’ ability to invest in African relations when needed, but by itself it represents a foreign policy strategy towards Africa that prioritizes the short term without worrying more about the importance of of the region in the long term.

Since 2009, China has consistently outpaced the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner. As China has developed into the 21st century factory in the world, its hunger for raw materials has laid a solid foundation for relations with African countries, and is likely to remain so for many years to come. No ominous speeches about the Chinese threat — or even Chinese actions such as allegedly wiretapping the African Union headquarters — are likely to erode this fundamental economic stimulus.

In response, the United States wants to reinvigorate its commitments in the region to counter China’s influence wherever possible. For example, the Build Back Better World program and the Blue Dot Network are focused on countering China’s ever-babbled Belt and Road initiative — without giving much thought to whether the United States can or should try to compete with China on massive infrastructure. projects.

Ultimately, it’s a positive development that the United States would like to compete in building much-needed infrastructure across the region, but it’s hard to see how competitive American companies compare to the Chinese companies that have since built roads and railways in Africa. have built. the sixties. And of course, infrastructure is often an inherently corrupt and unprofitable industry that Chinese projects on the continent have had to deal with as much as anyone else.

Undoubtedly, this short-sighted focus on countering China’s economic obligations has blinded the United States to its own unique strengths. The prime example of this is the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which expires in 2025, a non-reciprocal trade program that gives 39 eligible African countries tax-free access to U.S. markets. This has had a catalytic effect on African industrialization, and many of the African manufacturers benefiting from AGOA are exporting low-tech goods, such as textiles, which they were unable to export to China, as China still has jobs to protect in that same industrial sector. . sectors.

Some critics have pointed out that several Chinese companies have actually moved to Africa to take advantage of the opportunities offered by AGOA. This should, however, be of little concern to US policymakers. By moving factories to Africa, these Chinese investors create jobs on the continent, boost supply or demand for other industries, and create the opportunity for knowledge transfer and spillovers so that locals can mimic the industrial processes they witness.

The fact that these Chinese investors can benefit financially is based on the much larger contributions to economic development that AGOA has fostered in the few African contexts where Chinese factories operate. This is still a policy that the United States can be proud of and would do well to promote among other rich countries.

Ultimately, US policy toward Africa is subpar, but it’s certainly not over. Rather than trying to compete in areas where China is more established, it can leverage its own strengths. While largely virtual, this year’s FOCAC will be another major milestone for China-Africa relations. It is an invitation to the United States to think about what their own route for cooperation might look like in the coming years.

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Rakesh

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