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U.S., China Have Complementary Roles in Africa

FullTextImage/img/@altVMI Superintendent Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III ’62 thanks opening session speakers Ambassador Vickie Huddleston and Dr. Todd Moss. – Photo courtesy of the Center for Leadership and Ethics.

LEXINGTON, Va., Nov. 3, 2011 – “When I first got the program and it said the Eagle and the Dragon, I wondered if it shouldn’t have said the Eagle vs. the Dragon.”

This statement from the audience at the opening session of the “Eagle and the Dragon in Africa,” an academic conference at Virginia Military Institute’s Center for Leadership and Ethics, pointed at what was most striking in keynote remarks presented by an ambassador for the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense and a fellow with the Center for Global Development.

The view that emerged from the presentations was that China is neither a competitor in the arena of security nor a deathly threat in that of economics.

Vicki Huddleston, deputy assistant secretary for Africa, and Todd Moss, vice president for programs and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development painted a nuanced picture of the emerging roles of the two countries and the developing relations between them for the audience, which included a large contingent of VMI cadets.

Huddleston stated the goals of the United States in Africa: to promote democracy, economic development, and rule of law and to mitigate conflict. She gave strong praise to the efforts of the relatively new U.S. Africa Command, which, she said “is providing the capacity to Africans, to African states, to African militaries so they can provide security and stability for their population so that they can be able to counter the transnational [threat] … of terrorism. … What AFRICOM does is build capacity of African militaries under civilian command.”

These goals are not, according to Huddleston, shared by China. “From the security point of view, China isn’t a competitor; it isn’t even there.” China and the United States do, however, have shared interests.

“My point to you would be that China and ourselves share the same goal in Africa, the goal being Democracy writ large … certainly economic development … and cultural relations, but where we differ, I believe, is in the means.”

Moss, who followed Huddleston on stage, noted that in the economic arena, China is “extremely active,” and he accounted for the sense of tension between the United States and China by adding that, globally, the two countries are also the two largest economies, tied together by both trade and debt.

Reassuringly, he added, “It sometimes seems like we’re competing, but it’s mostly a mutual hostage situation.”

In Africa, both China and the United States want to see much more vibrant and productive African markets, markets much more integrated in the global economy. Both the United States and China, he said, have very important roles to play in Africa, which is one of the “engines” of economic growth.

“Six out of 10 of the fastest growing economies this year globally are in Africa,” he said.

The biggest constraints to growth in Africa are the cost and reliability of electricity and transportation. Also needed are access to financing and regulatory structures.

In addressing these constraints, Moss said, the actions of the United States and China are often complementary. The United States tends to assist in development of regulatory structures and to invest in human capital, in schools and education and a healthier work force. The Chinese have a mechanism for building infrastructure – “tons of infrastructure” – wherever they are active.

Areas of tension, said Moss, are Chinese investment in “rogue” countries; the Chinese tendency to encourage borrowing, and to make the funds available to borrow, in countries that recently completed United States-led efforts to free them from oppressive debt; and transparency, which is viewed as essential by U.S. companies and U.S. regulators, but not by the Chinese.

Competition for oil, often seen as a major threat, is not as dangerous as many think, he said, since that market is extremely fluid.

Moss said that two strategies for assuring better financial growth in Africa would be for the United States to “unleash” the Overseas Private Investment Corp. from heavy regulation and to invest in multilateral financial systems, such as through the World Bank.

Following the talks, accents from around the world were heard as members of the audience stood to ask questions, prolonging the discussion until time was called.

The conferences continues with panel discussions today and tomorrow, a reception featuring cultural music from Sub-Saharan Africa, and a keynote address this evening by Maj. Gen. Donald Christopher Leins, deputy director for politico-military affairs (Africa) with the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

–Sherri Tombarge 

–VMI –