China, Like the U.S., Frames Much of Its Engagement in Africa in the Context of Great Power Rivalry

May 26, 2021 by  Eric Olander from The China Africa Project

The United States often frames its engagement in Africa as a way to confront China’s “malign influence,” prompting widespread criticism over the years that Washington’s primary interest on the continent appears more focused on China than on building a constructive Africa policy.

There’s a similar dynamic going on in China where senior-level officials regularly (almost daily in fact) contrast their Africa policies with those of the United States. The key difference, though, is that these officials, including Wu Peng , Beijing’s top diplomat for sub-Saharan Africa, almost never mention the U.S. by name, although it’s clear who they’re talking about.

The reference to the “politicization of the epidemic” that Foreign Minister Wang Yi made at yesterday’s Africa Day celebration hosted by African ambassadors is the kind of coded language that Chinese officials use to subtly criticize the United States.

In other instances it can be slightly more direct, as was evident last week when Wu spoke at a press conference in Beijing:

“Unlike some countries that have said they have to wait for their own people to finish vaccinations before they can supply the vaccinations to foreign countries, we believe that it is necessary to assure that the Chinese people get vaccinated as soon as possible, but for some countries in need, we also try our best to provide vaccine help.”

This kind of rhetoric has become pervasive in Chinese messaging on Africa, among policymakers in Beijing, and from embassies and diplomats on the continent (especially on Twitter where “one certain country” is often referenced).

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