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The U.S.- Africa Leaders Summit: In China’s Footsteps?

By Jana Mudronova, Phd candidate at University of Witwatersand
The first US- Africa Leaders Summit spurred debates long before it took place in August 4-6. However, analyses and controversies coming both from news sections and editorials do not stop with the last plane carrying African leaders back home.
Chinese media presentations of the summit shed light on Chinese perceptions of their own engagement with African continent. In this article I outline key issues raised by Chinese commentators and journalists selected from Chinese news portals and newspapers. It is important to note that all the articles reviewed approach the summit as a comparative enquiry into American diplomatic strategy contrasted with China’s way.
cap2First of all, all media picked up on presence of “merely” 50 African leaders indicating America’s politics of interference. Xinhuanet provides an overview of criticism towards the summit quoting various foreign newspapers, including Guardian and The Independent.
“Not only some of the African leaders were not invited to the summit, Zimbabwe, South Sudan etc., no bilateral talks with the participants were held. “[1]Similarly- “Almost all the leaders were invited to the summit, due to opposition either from the side of the US or African Union, leaders of five countries- Zimbabwe, Sudan, Central African Republic, Eritrea and Western Sahara, were removed from the list.” [2]
People’s Daily see the absence of five leaders as a part of an “old topic” of democracy and governance: “Hence, the Washington summit again turned into a class on democracy, and given the American definition of “bad student”, leaders of Zimbabwe, Sudan, Eritrea and Central Africa stayed locked out.”[3]
Secondly, Global Times intensifies criticism of the U.S. approach by calling the summit an opportunity [for the U.S.] “to learn the Chinese way of coming together”. The summit is also “the first obvious example of ‘Chinese like’ American diplomatic tool”. In addition to copying China-Africa meetings, the United States resorted to “sour tone” of ensuring the African counterparts that the US has no intention to “only seek natural resources” or to “simply grab the resources”. [4]“In contrast to American manifestation in Africa, which shows anxiety and lack of confidencecurrent achievements of Chinese cooperation in Africa are great and attitudes to the cooperation are even more welcoming.”[5]
U.S.- African summit- “intensive catch-up class”
obama-africa-summit-e1408023111278Despite of differences in underlying preconceptions, several reasons for the timing of the summit frequently appeared.
Obama has been widely criticized for ignoring Africa, as the first African-American president visited Africa only twice since taking his office. In contrast
with the EU, Japan, India, China etc. which have already been holding summits with African leaders, current US- Africa summit can be seen as ‘long overdue’; and is widely regarded as an “intensive catch-up [class]
”. [6]
And the author is right- at least across the Chinese media, the agreement that the summit represents Obama’s effort to catch up with China’s increasing engagement with the continent, both diplomatically and economically; was reached.
He Wenping, the director of the African Research Institute, in his interview with the Guangzhou Daily points out three reasons for the summit: “Firstly, Obama wants to leave some political legacy. As an African-American president, African-American voters expect him to do something for Africa…Secondly, America is trying to catch-up with China as China became Africa’s largest trading partner in 2009…Third reason is to renew the American strategic direction with Africa.” Yuan Zheng, the director of the Institute of American Diplomacy in the same interview, adds two more reasons- “US believes there is a need to counter terrorism in Africa “ and “that it can make profit from region’s vast market and development potential”[7]
Even though as described by majority of the news portals, $33 billion worth of investment is the biggest achievement of the summit, the two academics are more skeptical “moderate economic recovery in the United States means that there is not enough strength to invest in Africa.” The discussion carries on concluding that “the summit is far from meeting the purpose, its symbolic significance is greater than its actual meaning.”[8]
Finally, China is in the lead thanks to its progressive view of the continent. While the US maintains “old notion of Africa as unstable, relatively backward and high risk”[9], even ordinary Chinese are committed to Africa’s development: “At the same time [with increasing trade] large number of the Chinese moved to Africa to make living, got involved in manufacturing, trade, construction and other industries; and dedicated to development of African continent. On the contrary, the West, which tried to win over Africa only during the Cold War or other times of confrontation, seldom makes a real contribution to its development.”[10]
Overall, even though the language of Chinese media is more emotional, their analyses do not differ from their Western counterparts. Pragmatism of American administration is intertwined with Chinese pride of the country’s achievements on the continent. Even though the US is trying to catch-up with China, there is no sense of crisis in the US-China relationships.
Jana Mudronova is a Phd candidate in Development Studies at the University of Witwatersand in Johannesburg 
References
[1] “这次峰会美国不仅拒绝邀请津巴布韦,苏丹等部分非洲国家领导人,也不和与会领导人举行一对一双边会谈。“
https://news.xinhuanet.com/mil/2014-08/07/c_126842350.htm August 7, 2014
[2]此次峰会邀请了几乎所有非洲国家领导人,因美方或非盟的反对,有5个国家——津巴布韦、苏丹、中非共和国、厄立特里亚和西撒哈拉——被剔除于名单之外
https://www.qstheory.cn/international/2014-08/05/c_1111934899.htm August 5, 2014
[3]于是,华盛顿使峰会变成了又一次民主课堂,并a美国定义的“坏学生”津巴布韦、苏丹、厄立特里亚、中非4个国家的领导人拒之门外,再次让人看到民主的外衣实在裹不住美国霸权之躯的刁刺。
https://www.chinanews.com/gn/2014/08-18/6501953.shtml August 18, 2014
[4]“美国4日到6日“学着中国的样子”搞起了美非峰会,这是美国外交手段“中国化”的第一个明显的例子。。。。
倒是奥巴马总统显得有些小气了。他在峰会上强调美国“不仅仅向非洲寻求资源”,“不简单地从非洲攫取矿产”.
https://views.ce.cn/view/ent/201408/07/t20140807_3308605.shtml August 7, 2014
[5]“如今在非洲,中国的合作成果更大,合作态度更开放豁达,相反美国在非洲的表现则显得焦虑,缺乏自信。美国人的确值得认真反思这一切究竟是如何发生的。”
ibid
[6]美非关系“集中补课”
作为第一位非洲裔美国总统,奥巴马上任后仅两次访问非洲,被外界批评忽略非洲。与欧盟、日本、印度、中国等都已举办与非洲领导人峰会相比,本届美非峰会可谓“姗姗来迟”,被广泛认为是美非关系“集中补课”时间。
https://news.xinhuanet.com/world/2014-08/05/c_126832050.htm August 5, 2014
[7]美国是个全球性霸仅国家,他的触角总是要触及全世界各地的利益。然而,在美对外政策中,非洲似乎一直是被忽视的区域。进入新世纪,美国认为在非洲有反恐的需要。该 地区民族和部落矛盾多,美国担心但地成为恐怖分子的滋生地。…
另一个重要原因,该地区经济增长快,近年来有5%~6%的增幅,有广阔的市场和发展潜力,美国可从中获利。特别是随着中国在非洲援助增大,中国在非洲的影响力增强,美国与非洲合作,有抗衡亚洲竞争力的意图
https://world.chinaso.com/detail/201408/t20140808_1952677.html August 8, 2014
[8]其次,现阶段美国经济复苏较温和,没有足够的实力来投资非洲建设。。。
此次峰会远未达到此效果,象征意义大于实际意义。Ibid
[9]美国企业以及部分政治家持有旧的观念,认为非洲不稳定,相对落后,投资风险大
ibid
[10]与此同时,大量中国人远赴非洲大陆工作生活,从事生产、贸易、建设等行业,致力于非洲大陆的发展。反观西方,只在冷战或对抗时才想起拉拢非洲,却甚少对其发展做出实质性的贡献。
https://world.people.com.cn/n/2014/0805/c1002-25401537.html August 5, 2014

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