U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday that African countries should weigh Chinese loans carefully, while adding that Washington was not trying to keep Chinese investment away from the continent.
“We are not in any way attempting to keep Chinese dollars from Africa,” Tillerson told a news conference in the Ethiopian capital during his first diplomatic trip to the continent. “(But) it is important that African countries carefully consider the terms of those agreements and not forfeit their sovereignty.”
Tillerson, a former Exxon chief executive, is seeking to bolster security alliances on a continent increasingly turning to Beijing for aid and trade.
The top U.S. diplomat’s comments followed a speech earlier this week in which he criticised “China’s approach” to Africa which he said encouraged dependency through “opaque contracts” and “predatory loan practices”.
He arrived in Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation, on Wednesday and visited the African Union headquarters on Thursday. The complex was fully funded and built by China and is seen as a symbol of Beijing’s thrust for influence and access to the continent’s natural resources.
However booming trade has made China Africa’s biggest trade partner in less than two decades. According to the International Monetary Fund trade volume between China and Africa reached its peak of over $200 billion in 2015.
China is also the largest job creator on the continent.
According to Jeremy Stevens, an economist at South Africa-based Standard Bank Group, China has created close to 30,000 jobs in Africa over the last two years.
In addition to talking about trade and security, Secretary Tillerson may also attempt to smooth America’s relations with Africa after U.S. President Trump reportedly dismissed some African nations as “shithole countries” in January. Trump later denied making the comment and some African leaders say it’s time to move on.
The chairman of the African Union Commission says he considers President Donald Trump’s slur about Africa to be an incident “of the past.”
Both Chairman Moussa Faki and Tillerson were questioned during a news conference in Addis Ababa about Trump’s alleged remark. Neither man was anxious to address to eager the topic.
Faki said Trump sent him and other African leaders a letter shortly after the incident in which he affirmed his respect for Africa. He said Tillerson’s visit is evidence of the close U.S.-Africa relationship.