With China as unstated focus, US-Africa summit begins in Washington

The United States-Africa Leaders’ Summit hosted by President Joe Biden began on December 13 and is scheduled to conclude on December 15. Heads of states from 49 African nations and the African Union have been invited to take part in the summit in which the US is pitching itself as a “better option” to African nations, reflecting Washington’s concerns of the US’ alternative that many African nations are increasingly finding in China.

Even before the summit officially began, the White House announced Biden’s support for the African Union becoming a permanent member of the Group of 20 nations. The US also named Johnnie Carson, a career diplomat, to serve as point person for implementing initiatives that come out of the summit.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan had on Monday said that the administration would commit to spending $55 billion in Africa over the next three years on “a wide range of sectors to tackle the core challenges of our time.”

“If you compare what the United States is committing over the next three years to what any other country is committing, I think we stack up extremely favourably,” Sullivan said.

We are ‘sincere’ for African nations: China

China’s ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, pushed back on Monday against the Chinese debt trap notion and said that China was “sincere” in approaching Africa as the vibrant emerging market of the future.

“We are not interested in the views of any other countries on China’s role in Africa,” Qin said.

Summit will not be about China but Africa: White House

When asked whether Biden administration officials would directly address the US concerns about Chinese involvement in Africa during the US-Africa summit, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined. 

“It’s not going to be about China,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre added. “It’s going to be about Africa.”

Officials said in the run-up to the meetings that while America can’t and won’t tell African countries to turn away from China, the administration is making it clear that allowing Chinese bases on their soil and using Chinese telecom systems could hurt the US military relations with them.

“We have a particular type of security and military and defence relationship with African partners, and that could be jeopardized if they were to have Chinese basing in their region just because of the type of exercises, the type of work, the type of collaboration and training that we do with them,” Chidi Blyden, the deputy assistant defense secretary for African affairs, told reporters last week.

Trade between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa was $44.9 billion last year, a 22 per cent increase from 2019. However, the US investments into the region fell by 5.3 per cent to $30.31 billion in 2021. Meanwhile, trade between Africa and China last year increased to $254 billion last year, up about 35 per cent on a year-on-year basis.

(With inputs from agencies)

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