Monday, May 13, 2013

Attending: The U.S., China and Africa: Pursuing Trilateral Dialogue and Action

Earlier today I had the pleasure of attending an event at the Brookings Institution, titled "The U.S., China and Africa: Pursuing Trilateral Dialogue and Action." Hosted by the Africa Growth Initiative  and the John L. Thornton China Center at Brookings, in conjunction with the Institute for Statistical, Social, and Economic Research at the University of Ghana and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, this discussion looked to "to examine the relationships among the U.S., China and African states. This forum was the first in a series, which brings a balanced perspective to the examination of the challenges and opportunities for trilateral dialogue and action." Despite what some might say, I think that in terms of Africa, China and the U.S. have many issues where their interests overlap, and African countries and their citizens would be better served by cooperation.

Truth be told, I arrived a little late (Dupont Circle is surprisingly confusing to navigate for me unless I have a GPS) but I just managed to come in as soon as Yang Guang, the Director-General of the Institute of West Asian and African Studies from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, started his presentation. I missed the keynote remarks by Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool, South African ambassador to the United States and... another person who worked for the U.S. State Department but whose name I did not catch (I think maybe he replaced Donald Teitelbaum, who I do not believe was present). In addition, I heard closing remarks from Mwangi Kimenyi, Director of the Africa Growth Initiative and Senior Fellow in the area of Global Economy and Development. Here are a few of my tweets from the talk:
  • Yang Gang is beginning his remarks, and wasted no time mentioning Zheng He and Core Interests
  • Guang sees Africa and China developing together. Africa is also a valuable source of resources.  
  • In return, China is also a major provider of manufactured goods and services for Africa. This is the basic pattern of trade.  
  • This system is quite valuable for African development, not just trade but also FDI. Many are part of private firms. - Guang
    China has generated 80,000 African jobs, lots of tax revenue, & lots of aid. Amount of this is hard to quantify :)
  • Guang just quoted the $75 billion figure. Somewhere, social scientists are weeping...
  • The moderator is offering his observations. Emphasizing confluence of U.S., Chinese, and African interests.
  • Chinese are being nimble, thoughtful, progressive. Many areas where Chinese and Americans can continue to play important role
  • One issue is the de-industrialization of Africa, which China unfortunately has a hand in. Also, China can help Africa bargain in DOHA talks.
    First question from a Howard university rep. What is China doing in terms of human-rights in Africa? WOW!
  • Guang makes a clever observation that all questions are sort of directed to him :) FOCAC is trying to improve the relationship past trade.
  • China offers scholarships to African students, and it is attempting to help Africa move up the value chain. China helps human rights}{within UN human rights framework. - Guang
  • says that the onus managing African resources fall on the shoulders of Africans themselves.
Not content with just one Sino-Africa panel, Brookings had another panel up their sleeves, with Patricia Aidam, a Research Fellow from the Institute for Statistical, Social, and Economic Research at the University of Ghana; Wenping He, Director of African Studies Section at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; finally Yun Sun, Visiting Fellow at Global Economy and Development, the John L. Thornton China Center, and the Africa Growth Initiative. Moderated by Witney Schneidman, a Nonresident Fellow of both Global Economy and Development and the Africa Growth Initiative, I was particularly eager to listen to He and Sun, as He is a pretty big name in Sino-Africa analysis, and Sun recently wrote a very good Sino-Africa piece for Brookings. Here are a few more of my tweets from the event:
  • Trilateral cooperation is the best way for Africa to develop, would go a long way to strengthening African advantages - Aidam
  • China, U.S. can help w/ institutional strength, capacity-building, education, corruption, labor, diversification, value-adding, etc. - Aidam
  • This is all well and good, but why don't both countries work together? See situation as zero-sum. Compete over resources - Sun
  • In China many people see U.S. attempts to malign China as a global attempt to stop its rise. Africans also like to play off powers - Sun
  • There are opportunities to collaborate, but it requires African countries to not view such projects as net loss - Sun
  • There are collaborations happening on the ground, not at higher level - He
  • Africans wonder why superpowers do not collab - He
  • A lot of mistrust between China and the U.S. over Africa, it has become a talking point.
  • A more important question is can we make that collaboration happen? I will draw a roadmap by myself - He
  • First step is to establish ongoing dialogues between groups. Maybe add more partners from more countries - He
  • Second step: since a lot of problems cannot be solved by diplomacy, necessarily, but by scholarly engagement who can persuade govs - He
  • Third step is to create a new phrase: no ideology attached. Gov engagement should not attack other side (like US does) - He
  • Witney Schneidman just asked a question about illegal Chinese miners.
  • No foreign national can be part of small-scale mining, but Chinese have figured out a way to do so. Massive environmental damage - Aidam
  • Georgetown professor: why are African voices and institutions being devalued? Africa's solutions are going to come from its people.
  • China Daily rep: From an African point of view, do you think African favorably is high? What about no strings attached?
  • No strings is a good thing for Africa, but not for all African situations, and it IS tied aid. Gives certain actors more choices - Aidam
  • African voices are not being muted, all the problems and solutions are seen and told by many - Aidam
  • My question: in the wake of Chinese social media voices asking for more gov protection in Africa, will China intervene militarily or }{let PMCs run security for Chinese citizens? Is that a possibility?
  • Chinese people in Africa facing increasing security threats, during fifth FOCAC peace and security was highlighted for first time - He
  • If Libya happens again? PMCs are being discussed by Chinese companies right now to offer security. PLA is not an option now - He
  • I cannot predict how long they will take to be dominant. ALREADY a PMC or two in Africa offering protection to Chinese companies - He
  • China does not have many avenues of constructive security options with the US besides anti-piracy off of Somalia - Sun
  • China will contribute more to AU security, perhaps at expense of the U.S. - Sun
All in all, the event was quite interesting. Now, on to some big picture observations:
  1. The room was PACKED, with a very diverse audience. I am happy that Sino-Africa relations are still a topic du jour here in Washington. Maybe that will result in U.S. policymakers changing some of their strategies towards the African continent. I was quite happy to see the State Department engage thoughtfully with many of the topics. Please remember that the next time you hear that the U.S. just does not "get it."
  2. When Guang mentioned that China had devoted $75 billion in aid to Africa, I was surprised that no one in the room challenged the figure. For a quick primer on why that figure is suspect, despite the best of AidData's intentions, please read this and this by Deborah Brautigam. It looks like her fears of everyone quoting bad data have been confirmed.
  3. When He confirmed that there is at least one Chinese Private Military Company operating in Africa already, I know that I am going to have track it down and see what it is up to. There is no chance that the PLA will operate in China anytime soon (however defined) but there is no way that Chinese PMC's are operating abroad without at least tacit agreement from the Chinese state, right? How does that affect Chinese "non-interference" if at all?

1 comment:

  1. Winslow, I caution you not to overvalue the symbolism of a packed hall at a think tank symposium with regards to whether or not US foreign policy towards Africa is fully engaged. I am by no means alone calling for the United States to get in the game or else be left behind not only by the Chinese but other emerging powers alone. Senator Chris Coons, Ambassador Shinn and many others have all echoed my comments that the United States is not engaged.

    With Sino-African trade expected to top $200 billion this year and US-African trade expected to steadily fall in the coming years due to America's diminishing reliance on African oil, it is very easy to say that the United States just doesn't get it. A military-led foreign policy (e.g. military engagements in Mali, Libya, drone bases in Djibouti, Ethiopia, 25% of the USAID budget in Africa is for military purposes, a billion dollars in aid for the Egyptian military and the list goes on and on will NOT win the hearts and minds of Africans. If our experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have taught us nothing else then to re-consider the value of this emphasis on military-led foreign policies rather than active diplomatic engagement focused on actionable social and economic issues (e.g. trade, infrastructure development and effective health assistance).

    So a much better measure of whether the "US gets it" or not is to evaluate the actual policies put forth by the White House and Congress rather than how many people attend free symposiums.

    Just my two cents...