WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States plans to counter the rapidly expanding economic and political influence of China and Russia in Africa, where the two nations use corrupt business practices with little regard for the rule of law, according to prepared remarks on Thursday by U.S. national security adviser John Bolton.
The United States’ No 1. priority will be developing economic ties with the region to create opportunities for American businesses and protect the independence of African countries, as well as U.S. national security interests, he said in the prepared remarks.
The Trump administration unveiled a new Africa strategy based on “America First” principles, focused on enhancing trade ties, combating terrorism and cutting back on aid programs the administration deems inefficient.
Ambassador John Bolton, the President’s national security adviser, unveiled the strategy in remarks delivered at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.
“Under our new Africa strategy, we will target U.S. funding toward key countries and particular strategic objectives,” Bolton said. “We will make certain that all aid to the region—whether for security, humanitarian, or development needs—advances U.S. interests,” Bolton said.
Currently, the U.S. sends more than $8 billion annually to African countries, though Bolton, citing a “longstanding pattern of aid without effect,” indicated that amount may soon be slashed.
“Unfortunately, billions upon billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have not achieved the desired effects,” he said. “They have not stopped the scourge of terrorism, radicalism and violence.”
He said the Trump administration is “close” to concluding a comprehensive review of its own aid programs, and said the president’s budget, to be released early next year, will include recommendations for changes in funding levels for all foreign aid recipients. He also said he was personally reviewing presidential travel recommendations from his team and expected to have announcements on foreign travel early next year.
Despite indications the strategy will ultimately involve a drawdown in overall U.S. funding, Bolton said the strategy has been designed to counter financial and political influence from China and Russia, which he said employ “predatory practices” to stunt economic growth and interfere with American military and security interests on the continent.
“China uses bribes, opaque agreements and the use of strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands,” Bolton said. “Its investment ventures are riddled with corruption.”
“Great power competitors, namely China and Russia, are rapidly expanding their financial and political influence across Africa,” Bolton said.
“They are deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States.”
Bolton’s speech at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, comes as U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, leaders of the world’s two largest economies, seek to resolve trade disputes that have roiled global markets and created economic uncertainty.
Bolton had equally harsh words for Russia.
“Across the continent, Russia advances its political and economic relationships with little regard for the rule of law or accountable and transparent governance,” he said.
He accused Moscow of selling arms and energy in exchange for votes at the United Nations, “votes that keep strongmen in power, undermine peace and security, and run counter to the best interests of the African people.”
China’s development policies in Africa have been a concern for Washington as the United States seeks to ramp up development finance in the face of China’s global ambitions.
The head of the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corp (OPIC) said in July that China is saddling poor nations with unsustainable debt through large-scale infrastructure projects that are not economically viable.
In October Trump signed legislation overhauling the way the federal government lends money for foreign development, creating a $60 billion agency intended largely to respond to China’s growing influence. The new the U.S. International Development Finance Corp combines OPIC and other government development organizations.
Xi’s “Belt and Road” initiative, unveiled in 2013, aims to build an infrastructure network connecting China by land and sea to Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.