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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 
[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
https://www.qstheory.cn/international/2014-08/05/c_1111934899.htm August 5, 2014
https://www.chinanews.com/gn/2014/08-18/6501953.shtml August 18, 2014
https://views.ce.cn/view/ent/201408/07/t20140807_3308605.shtml August 7, 2014
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。…
https://world.chinaso.com/detail/201408/t20140808_1952677.html August 8, 2014
https://world.people.com.cn/n/2014/0805/c1002-25401537.html August 5, 2014