To Compete With China, the U.S. Must Take Africans Seriously

To Compete With China, the U.S. Must Take Africans Seriously
Chinese Foreign Minister, Qin Gang and African Union Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat attend the inauguration of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Jan. 11, 2023 (AP photo).

Last month, China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang embarked on his first overseas trip since his appointment late last year with a five-nation tour of Africa. Qin’s visit to Ethiopia, Gabon, Angola, Benin and Egypt continued a decades-long tradition of Chinese foreign ministers starting the year with a trip to Africa. Ahead of the tour, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson described it as a demonstration of the “great importance” Beijing attaches to relations with countries on the continent and an effort to deepen them.

Qin’s visit to Africa also came at a time of ramped up engagement between African states and China’s chief rival, the United States. Ever since U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken launched the Biden administration’s “Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa” during his own trip to the continent last August, U.S. officials have stepped up diplomatic outreach to African states as part of a bid by Washington to “reset” icy relations with the continent’s governments. This included the second U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit held in Washington late last year, during which U.S. President Joe Biden declared to the assembled African leaders that he was “all in on Africa’s future.”

To underscore his point, in January, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., visited seven African countries between them in overlapping days. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee is currently on a three-country tour of South Africa, Nigeria and Ethiopia. In addition to Biden, who promised at the U.S.-Africa gathering to visit the continent this year, Vice President Kamala Harris, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Trade Representative Katherine Tai are also expected to make trips in 2023 to African countries.

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