Read: China is quietly reshaping the world.
“China uses bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands,” Bolton said. He added that its investments are not only corrupt, but they don’t meet U.S. environmental or ethical standards. The new strategy, he said, would benefit both America and African nations.
Bolton’s remarks suggest that Africa is likely to become the latest battleground between the United States and China, which have clashed on a range of issues over the past two years. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Trump administration was planning to call out China for a campaign of economic espionage and hacking; add to that a costly trade war between the two countries and U.S. concern over China’s military activity in the disputed South China Sea, and it’s a recipe for a great-power competition with implications that will extend far beyond Africa.
Criticism of Beijing’s policies is one of the main areas of bipartisan consensus in Washington: China sits atop the list of U.S. foreign-policy priorities, while Africa occupies a lowly perch. But Beijing’s rapidly expanding influence on the continent (where it has its sole overseas military base, in Djibouti) has forced U.S. policy makers to take steps such as the ones Bolton outlined Thursday.
There are other measures, too. In October, the Trump administration created the $60 billion International Development Finance Corporation, or IDFC. Its goal is to increase U.S. investment in lower-income countries in Africa and beyond by providing American companies with products such as risk insurance and loans to encourage them to invest in Africa. But any U.S. spending in Africa will pale next to Beijing’s investment there, where it plans to spend $60 billion over the next three years.
Bolton pointed to the “disturbing effects” of Chinese investment in Africa and around the world. Much of China’s commercial interest in Africa is in the extraction of natural resources. Its policy in Africa—along with its Belt and Road Initiative across Asia and Europe, and its investments in Latin America—is accompanied by seemingly blank checks to underwrite its investments.
But China’s loans to African governments have ultimately left states, including Djibouti and Zambia, indebted to Beijing at unsustainable levels. Djibouti owes China an amount equal to about 75 percent of its gross domestic product—and that figure is hardly atypical. China is reportedly planning to take over Zambia’s power utility because of Lusaka’s inability to repay loans from Beijing.
Read: China and America may be forging a new economic order.
Opponents of China’s policy say Beijing finances “white elephant” projects that deliver weak economic returns. Indeed, researchers at William & Mary’s AidData, an institute that studies international-development aid, found that about 80 percent of China’s overseas spending has no obvious effect on economic growth.