Speaking on Tuesday at George Mason University in the U.S. state of Virginia, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson panned Chinese financial practices on the African continent, saying they forced African countries into dependency and harmed growth.
The United States keeps “good governance initiatives in mind when it comes to development,” Tillerson said, speaking a day before he was scheduled to depart on his first trip to Africa as secretary of state, where he will visit five countries: Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Chad, and Nigeria.
“It’s an American model of development that has proven itself to work,” he added, continuing that the United States “pursues, develops sustainable growth that bolsters institutions, strengthens rule of law, and builds the capacity of African countries to stand on their own two feet.”
Tillerson argued that this U.S. approach stood in “stark contrast” to Chinese methods in Africa, which encourage “dependency using opaque contracts, predatory loan practices, and corrupt deals that mire nations in debt and undercut their sovereignty, denying them their long-term, self-sustaining growth.”
The language echoes recent U.S. criticisms of Chinese financial practices in Asia, as well. Beijing has extended loans, often under onerous terms, to a range of countries under the aegis of its Belt and Road Initiative.
“Chinese investment does have the potential to address Africa’s infrastructure gap, but its approach has led to mounting debt and few, if any, jobs in most countries,” Tillerson continued. “When coupled with the political and fiscal pressure, this endangers Africa’s natural resources and its long-term economic political stability.”
The U.S. secretary of state nevertheless emphasized that Washington welcomed the involvement of other countries in development initiatives on the African continent.
“We want to see responsible development and transparent free market practices that foster greater political stability on the continent,” he said. “We hope China will join us in this effort as well.”
Tillerson’s comments on China come in the aftermath of further outreach by Beijing to a range of African countries. His Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, had visited Rwanda, Angola, Gabon, and São Tomé and Príncipe in January — the same month U.S. President Donald J. Trump reportedly derided people from “shithole” countries, sparking outrage in Africa.
China has in the past put forward proposals to invite the United States to cooperate with its initiatives in promoting African development. The United States has taken little interest in participating in China-led initiatives on the continent, preferring to go it alone for now.