Saturday, February 3, 2018

Will Trump's Comments Push African Countries Toward China?

Source: The Economist, January 18, 2018 (hat tip to Jeff)
Now the world knows what the US president allegedly thinks about African countries.

At the Council on Foreign Relations blog, analyst John Campbell warns that "this racist and anti-African rhetoric is likely to strengthen the hand of those in Africa that would see their countries turn away from the West and towards more authoritarian governments, like those of Russia and China."

Perhaps. Yet this assumes a kind of "new Cold War" set of choices, where countries need to chose "the West" or "the East." Today's African countries can admire China's astounding economic development success, and take advantage of Chinese offers of finance, without rejecting the West or its own generous financial flows. They can have their cake and eat it too.

On the other hand, Washington should know that for decades, the Chinese government has made Africa a diplomatic priority. The Economist (see illustration) might not be aware that this far predates any special concern with Africa's natural resources. Since January 1991, China's foreign minister has started each year by traveling to Africa for high-level meetings with a group of selected countries. This year Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Rwanda, Angola, Gabon, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

As I noted in The Dragon's Gift, a decade ago, I gave a talk to a group of African ambassadors in Washington, and in the discussion afterwards, one ambassador mentioned these Chinese visits, saying "China gives Africans more respect than they get from the West." I was struck by how many other ambassadors nodded vigorously in agreement.

Trump's comments mark a new low, but in other ways, his sentiments are not new. What is new is having these sentiments expressed at such a high level by our top leader. China has its own problems with racism and anti-African rhetoric among its citizens, but the government has always prioritized a respectful engagement with African governments, not just in words but in deeds, like the annual January visits. Our state department could help to neutralize these comments with its own push for respectful engagement, but a year after coming to office, the Trump administration has still not nominated anyone to be the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. 


George H said...

Have you had a chance to review a report (a few months back) by William & Mary's AIData of China's foreign aid, in particular the portion pertaining to Africa?

It was recognized by some public outlets, including the Brookings (

Wonder if you have any thought?

Deborah Brautigam said...

Yes, we've reviewed the report, and will be blogging on it very soon. Stay tuned.