Princeton Lyman Interview (2006): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

A Strategic U.S. Approach to Africa: Conversation with Princeton N. Lyman, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; by Harry Kreisler; February 16, 2006

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A whole section in the report is devoted to China. Why is China important in a document that is looking at strategic issues in Africa?

One of the points we make in the report is that Africa is becoming a more competitive arena in the world. There is a great demand for natural resources, particularly out of Asia, China, India, Malaysia, etc., and that's playing out in Africa. It has a lot of implications for us, for our policies, as it does for Africans. We spend a chapter on this because China comes to Africa with several advantages from the Africans' point of view. They don't put conditions on it relating to governance, human rights, or anything -- it's wonderful to hear Marxist Chinese leaders say, when they come to Africa, "Business is business. We're not interested in other things."

[laughs] We've come a long way.

Right. And they're doing some good things. It's raised commodity prices for African exports; they're building infrastructure, which we don't do. They're doing some very good things, they're doing some training.

But what they're also doing is protecting rogue states in which they have a big interest. Sudan's a classic case. They own 40 percent of the Sudanese oil industry. They get 7 percent of their oil imports from Sudan. They sit on the Security Council, and in spite of genocidal acts in Darfur, the Security Council has not been able to put sanctions on the Khartoum government. They protect a man like Mugabe in Zimbabwe. That raises serious political issues for us.

They're competitors, and their competition has to be met by our companies in a meaningful way because they come with a lot of cash. They help governments that aren't ready to reform, like Angola, which says, "We don't need the IMF anymore because the Chinese just gave us $2 billion because they want access to our oil resources." So, it's an important new phenomenon. What's interesting is we have gotten more press attention on that particular section of the report than any other part of the report.

What was the nature of the response? [Was it] that you were making China so important in this equation?

Well, from the Africans it was, "Aha! You've noticed. " Get on a plane in Africa, you'll see Chinese businessmen. There are 68,000 Chinese workers in Africa -- they also bring their own workers.

The reaction from China has been interesting, because China did not dialogue on these issues before. Now we are opening up a dialogue. Our Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Jendayi Frazier, has just come back from Beijing. The Chinese issued a policy paper on their policies in Africa, and when they issued it, what did the press ask them about? They asked them about the issues that we raised in our report. So, the Chinese have now come back to us and said, "We'd like to meet with you at the Council on Foreign Relations to talk about our policy in Africa."

What we've said in the report is [beyond the] Cold War adversary issue. We need to talk about the real issues between us, but also to see where there's common ground. China should have an interest in stability in the Gulf of Guinea areas, and in other areas. Let's talk about Sudan and Darfur. China has two sides to its public image. One is, "We are part of the Third World, we're a developing country, we're a leader of the developing countries." But they're also a superpower. They want to be seen as a major power, and that means responsibilities. So, the dialogue becomes very important on these issues.

So, it's a real challenge in the global arena today, when you focus on a problem like Africa, to help influence the Chinese in whether they go for a narrow national interest in their dealings with Africa or become part of a multilateral solution.

Right. And in some ways, they are. They put peacekeepers into Africa, they joined UN peacekeepers, they're working in health; but in other areas they're not helpful. That's exactly the kind of dialogue we need to have, and to recognize that there's now going to be significant players in Africa. The Indians are coming along very rapidly behind them with the same approaches, Malaysia, even South Korea. It makes the arena more competitive.

Next page: The Future of U.S. Policy toward Africa

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