Secretary of state begins visit to Africa with stern words on Beijing’s lending
China is apparently on US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s mind as he visits Africa for the first time with a five-nation tour beginning in Ethiopia.
In Addis Ababa on Thursday, where he visited African Union headquarters, a complex built by China in 2011, Tillerson said Chinese investments in Africa “do not bring significant job creation locally” and he criticized how Beijing structures loans to African governments, according to Reuters.
An expert at the China, Africa, United States Engagement Dialogue held in Washington on Wednesday paints a different picture.
“When you look at some of the largest concerns and societal topics in Africa today such as employment, we at McKinsey did large-scale work where our team went out in visiting more than 1,000 Chinese firms already operating in Africa,” said Irene Yuan Sun, engagement manager at McKinsey and Co.
“It turns out that they collectively employ more than 300,000 people, 90 percent of the employees are Africans,” she said.
Sun, author of the 2017 book The Next Factory of the World: How Chinese Investment Is Reshaping Africa, noted that 90 percent of the Chinese enterprises in Africa are private, non-governmental firms, although discussions of the Africa-China relationship often focus on geopolitics and government investment.
The US is the top aid donor to Africa, and China is a leading trade partner of the continent.
Robin Renee Sanders, former US ambassador to the Republic of Congo and Nigeria, said at the dialogue that the US “is stepping back a bit from Africa at a point in time when we shouldn’t be stepping back”. She said China and the US can work together in Africa on three pillars: education, adaptation and innovation.
Sanders said Africa will have the largest population by 2035 and will have the largest working population in the world.
“The areas of cooperation between the US and China have to be in the areas of exchanges and economic development, when I talk about economic development, I’m looking at the social sectors that need the biggest help, and that is in education,” she said.
Sanders called for more attention to African’ women, as they represent 50.2 percent of the continent’s population.
“If we leave out women and girls on any sides, whether it is on the Chinese side, or the US side, or the African side, then we are not going to have economic development on the continent.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was visiting Zimbabwe on Thursday, faulted Tillerson on his comments.
“It was not appropriate to criticize the relations of his hosts — when he was a guest there — with another country,” Reuters quoted Lavrov as saying.
Asked about Tillerson’s criticism of China’s approach on the continent, Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Minister Monica Juma said: “This country is engaging with partners from across the world driven by our own interests and for our own value.”
On Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said, “China welcomes the diversification of Africa’s international partnerships and sincerely hopes that various parties of the international community can increase inputs in Africa.”
Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Thursday that even as it has rapidly developed, China remains a good partner of Africa.
“Africa’s concerns are China’s concerns. Africa’s priorities are China’s priorities,” Wang said, adding that African countries are welcome to board China’s fast train of development.
Ke Yian contributed to this story.