By Chen Weihua | China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-28 07:25
During his recent visit to Senegal, Angola and Ethiopia, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed his mission was to advance US partnerships with those African countries. His real mission, however, was to bad-mouth China and turn the promising continent into a disastrous geopolitical battleground. That he did so by using his new tactic of not mentioning China by name does not change the real goal of his mission.
In Luanda, capital of Angola, Pompeo told journalists that “we do high-quality work and it’s transparent” adding “Not every nation that comes here to invest does that”.
In the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, he launched another veiled attack, saying that not every country from outside the continent doing business in Africa follows the US model of partnership. “Countries should be wary of authoritarian regimes with empty promises,” he said.”They breed corruption, dependency, they don’t hire the local people, they don’t train, they don’t lead them.”
Perhaps Pompeo didn’t know what he was talking about. He should have visited the Eastern Industrial Zone just outside Addis Ababa. As one who had spent a week there years ago interviewing people in a dozen Chinese-funded factories, I can attest that the vast majority of workers there are locals and many have been trained to take managerial posts.
A study last year by London-based School of Oriental and African Studies showed that Chinese companies hire, pay and train workers to similar standards as non-Chinese companies. The study, conducted in Angola and Ethiopia, two of the top destinations for Chinese foreign direct investment, also found that negative stories about Chinese companies are mostly untrue.
Had Pompeo not landed in Addis Ababa blindfolded, he would have seen the newly expanded terminal at the Bole International Airport. It was completed last year and financed by the Export-Import Bank of China. China has also helped fund and build highways, light rail and a railway from the city to neighboring Djibouti. And the impressive African Union headquarters Pompeo visited in Addis Ababa was built with $200 million donation from the Chinese government.
No wonder Lin Songtian, China’s ambassador to South Africa, reacted strongly to Pompeo’s blatant lies. At a news conference on Feb 18, Lin said China attaches great importance to Africa. Over the past 30 years, Chinese foreign ministers have consistently made their first overseas trips of the year to Africa. Which is in stark contrast to Pompeo, who visited Africa two years after taking office.
Pompeo is not the first US politician who has tried to drive a wedge between China and African nations. His predecessor Rex Tillerson and former US national security advisor John Bolton both attacked China during their African trips.
Compared with China, which has invested heavily in Africa’s industrialization and modernization, what the US has been doing there in recent years is playing politics and trying to create divisions. Like elsewhere in the world, the US wants to force African nations to choose between the US and China, something that most countries in the world have rejected.
John Campbell, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former US ambassador to Nigeria, said in a Feb 20 blog on the council’s website that the US administration appears to have no interest in Africa beyond seemingly unfiltered insults, referring to the White House’s use of a derogatory term to describe some African nations.
Campbell lamented that the latest US travel ban, suspending immigration to the US from Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania, is unlikely to encourage US private sector involvement with Africa.
Pompeo’s slander and cheap lies about China won’t fool any African country.
The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.