There is no denying China’s increasing influence in Africa, whether it is beneficial to both parties or not. It has been largely assumed that China’s involvement in the continent is in direct competition with Western – and specifically United States – involvement in Africa. This is not necessarily the case though, as emphasized by several senior U.S officials. In fact, statements from these officials generally reflect a desire to engage with China in Africa in a positive way.
It is firstly important to note, as stipulated by Senator Chris Coons, that the U.S. and the Chinese have fundamentally taken on different roles in Africa: 70% of Chinese assistance to Africa comes in the form of roads, stadiums and government buildings, whilst a similar proportion of U.S. aid is focused on the war against disease.
Statements in favour of bilateral cooperation in Africa are based on the theory that where U.S. and Chinese interests overlap, there can be cooperation. Both advocate the importance of political stability, encourage African economic development and are supportive of UN and African Union peacekeeping operations in the continent. Perhaps most importantly, both the United States and China seek access to African raw materials, particularly oil.
There are, naturally, obstacles that need to be overcome. The U.S. and China have had differing philosophies toward governance in the past, resulting in a sense of mutual mistrust and suspicion. Possible collaboration between the world’s economic powerhouses has also left many African countries unable to see past the possibility that they might be ganged up on.
David H. Shinn writes that there are several areas in which the U.S. and China can collaborate. These include peacekeeping operations, as well as concerted efforts in the healthcare sector to counter the colossal threat of disease. U.S and Chinese interests in Africa will continue to overlap, and this will open the door to possible coordinated diplomatic engagement. Once pride is put aside, the three parties in question, can surely only benefit, both economically and politically, from this proposed collaboration.