Monday, November 06, 2006

Caution: Balancing Ahead!

Over the weekend, there were numerous news reports about China's diplomatic efforts in Africa, including debt forgiveness, pledges of large aid packages, and other agreements designed to pull Africa and China closer together. Specifically, China offered $5 billion in loans and credits and promised to double its aid to the continent by 2009, as well as promised to forgive the interest-free loans of the most indebted and underdeveloped states. Among other deals, China agreed to:
-- train 15,000 African professionals, send 100 senior agricultural experts to Africa, and set up 10 agricultural technology centers in Africa over the next three years.

-- build 30 hospitals and provide 300 million yuan (37.5 million U.S. dollars) in grants to help fight malaria.

-- dispatch 300 volunteers, build 100 rural schools, and increase the number of Chinese government scholarships to African students from 2,000 per year now to 4,000 per year by 2009.

-- increase to more than 440 from 190 the number of items which will not be taxed when imported to China from Africa. He did not provide details.

There's nothing in and of itself troubling about any of these deals. But taken in context of the larger strategic picture, they could spell trouble for American foreign policy, as well as for the broader agenda of liberal international security. We can see quite clearly how Chinese ties to Sudan have negatively impacted the ability of the UN and the West to effectively deal with the problem of Darfur. As Chinese influence in Africa grows, China will continue to gain more of a say in the political affairs of Africa, and as Darfur clearly demonstrates, China and the West still don't see eye to eye on all issues.

What can the West, and specifically the US, do to counter China's growing African presence? A few things. First, the US and the West should take steps to increase their influence there. I'm not a huge fan of debt forgiveness as in isolation it can create a moral hazard and contribute to bad governance. But, it's far past time for the US and other Western countries to stop protecting their agricultural and manufacturing sectors and open up those areas to the comparative advantages of African producers. As this year's Nobel Peace Prize made clear, the surest path to peace is economic development, and the surest path to economic development is innovation and free trade. Programs like the Millenium Challenge Account need to be expanded and strengthened, as they help provide economic improvements along with strengthening governance and democracy.

The US also needs to work more at connecting China to the larger globalized economy, making it clear that China's ability to profit from its relations with the West depend on China's overall strategic behavior. If China wants to continue to protect the Sudanese government, for example, it must realize that such behavior will be costly to its larger economy and efforts to enter into the globalized world. This strategy would pay dividends with North Korea as well, but Africa will, very likely, become increasingly important in a strategic sense in the future, not only as a latent source of economic growth, but also a nexus for security challenges, such as ethnic conflict and infectious disease.

Moving to counter China's African initative not only makes sense for the strategic interests of the US and its liberal democratic allies. It also makes sense of the long-suffering peoples of Africa.

UPDATE: To see how the Millenium Challenge Account grades the performance of the developing world, and what programs have already been put in place, go here.

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