China Dismisses Biden’s $55 Billion Giveaway to Africa as ‘Laughable’

President Joe Biden toasts with Senegalese President Macky Sall in the East Room of the Wh
AP Photo/Susan Walsh //PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese state media were not much impressed by the Biden administration’s announcement on Monday of $55 billion in economic, health, and security aid for African nations.

Chinese editorialists snorted at the Biden team’s effort to catch up with China’s burgeoning influence on the continent by tossing some money around, especially since American aid comes with so many human rights strings attached.

China’s state-run Global Times was contemptuous of White House pretenses that the $55 billion giveaway and week of meetings with African leaders was anything but a desperate bid to counter Beijing’s growing African footprint:

The US-based Foreign Policy magazine reported that “Team Biden wants to court African nations without talking about Beijing.” But this was broken on the first day. At a panel discussion with several African leaders, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said China was expanding its footprint in Africa “on a daily basis” through its growing economic influence, which will “destabilize” the continent.

African countries have been wearied of US’ various remarks aiming to sow discord. This time, coming all the way to the US, the leaders of 49 countries and the African Union are not to have dinner at the White House, not to be lectured by Americans, nor to hear Americans bad-mouthing China. As a matter of fact, they have clearly shown their reluctance and aversion towards the pressure piled on them to take sides, and ask the US to respect them.

After offering a little backhanded applause for “sincere help to Africa,” such as President Joe Biden announcing he would support adding the African Union to the Group of 20 nations, the Global Times claimed Biden is just trying to muscle in on the good work China has already done:

The US has made its Africa strategy a Gordian knot. It has set its goal to prevent China’s development in the African continent instead of helping African countries cope with development difficulties, which fundamentally goes against the wishes of African countries and damages their interests. In other words, the US wants to let African countries pry away the bricks of the projects built with China’s aid, by only painting a few pieces of cake.

In the past, the US regarded the African continent as a problem that it disliked and needed to be solved, but now it regards Africa as a pawn in the major power competition. It never really regards Africa as a cooperative partner of equality, mutual benefit and mutual respect. Not only African countries have been keenly aware of this, but the international community also sees it clearly.

The Global Times scoffed at Biden thinking he could buy his way into Africa’s good graces with a mere $55 billion when China has become “Africa’s largest trading partner, with trade volume reaching $254 billion in 2021, which is four times that of U.S.-Africa trade.”

Another contemptuous Global Times editorial attacked the “arrogant attitude” and “Cold War mentality with obvious anti-China sentiment” brought by the U.S. to African diplomacy. 

Of course, the Chinese Communist paper would never dream of telling its readers what the U.S. is saying to Africans that makes Beijing so angry – namely Washington’s warnings about the debt imperialism of China’s Belt and Road program, which gets Third World nations hooked on Chinese debts they can never repay and litters their territory with environmentally dubious development projects. Beijing grew nervous enough about African leaders heeding these warnings last summer to cancel about two dozen of its most questionable loans.

Instead, the Global Times raged at “sick” U.S. officials and Western analysts who doubted Beijing’s motives and argued that America remains the “partner of choice” for Africans who do not want to be exploited by China’s predatory practices.

The Global Times fumbled for a glamorous way to make the ugly point that China does not make its economic and political support conditional on political liberalization and human rights reforms, as America does, so African leaders who might need to play rough to remain in power should think carefully about which superpower horse they hitch their wagons to:

Chinese analysts said it seems that US officials like Austin have forgotten how many African countries have been bombed by the US and other Western countries, and how many times the US has used and created chaos in the continent to plunder natural resources, and how arrogant the US elites behaved when lecturing Africans about “democracy” and “human rights” but showing racism and discrimination at the same time.

When the US and other Western countries bring chaos and pain to the continent, China has paid continuous efforts to help Africa to realize development and fight common challenges like epidemics and food crises together, and those US officials should better learn how much infrastructure and modernized facilities China has built for Africa with no political condition attached, and if they learnt, they would be embarrassed, experts said.

The Chinese editorialists were even angrier with Biden’s Republican critics, who want the administration to be more open about competition with China for influence in Africa and might not go along with Biden’s budget requests if he does not give a careful account of how he plans to spend the money.

Chinese state propagandists are not the only ones questioning if the Biden administration can “fix” the American influence deficit in Africa with a quick summit and a few billion in checks from U.S. taxpayers.

Not many international analysts buy into the Global Times narrative that Africans have an eternal deep-seated mistrust of the Western world or fear Western powers will use them as pawns in a new Cold War, but China’s booming trade with Africa and those billions in Belt and Road loans are widely seen as a major headstart for Beijing. Some speculate the U.S. might be able to close the trade and investment gap as China’s economy falters, and news about the risks of doing business with China spread between African nations.

Some African leaders see an opportunity in the nascent bidding war for their geopolitical affections. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, for example, said this week he saw no reason to choose between China and the U.S. instead of welcoming trade and financial support from both – but he also made a point of declaring he would not be “bullied” by the U.S. on human rights matters, such as the incarceration of “Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina.

The Biden administration may quickly find itself unable to compete with China for influence in some African countries because of human rights concerns. Influential activists were unhappy with the White House reaching out to leaders such as Kagame and President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, who has employed brutal and corrupt methods to remain perched on his throne for the past 43 years.

“Obiang has realized he can use this China card and get the U.S. to look the other way in the face of stolen elections, completely nonexistent rule of law, and corruption that is rampant,” Tuta Alicante, director of a human rights nonprofit called EG Justice, complained on Monday.

China knows objections like this will be raised more vociferously as the Biden administration lavishes more money and diplomatic attention on African autocrats – and, as the Global Times hinted in its sarcastic editorials, those autocrats know perfectly well the Chinese will never criticize them for doing whatever it takes to remain in power and provide “stability.”

Africa experts told Asia’s CNA on Wednesday that African leaders are well aware China and the U.S. are bidding for influence, even as both sides deny their intentions. The bidding war is heating up as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reshuffles the geopolitical deck, impacting issues such as international migration and food security.

One sign that African leaders understand the great game being played on their continent is that many have refused to denounce the Russian invasion. Neutrality in the conflict that presently defines superpower relations is a signal that seats at the bargaining table are open to both sides.

“The United States realizes that it can no longer be business as usual when it comes to Africa,” Dr. Ebenezer Obadare of the Council on Foreign Relations suggested.


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