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Goerge Okumu

The policy is aided by the argument that China will have several confrontations, despite its rising economic, political, and military power, causing a sharp rift between China and developing countries and many of its neighbours, not to mention the ‘new welcome’ being shown to the United States in Asia. Nowhere in the world is the foreign-policy focus of two competing powers better contrasted than in the African continent.

The Gathering Policy Trap

If there is any American strategy at play in the world in general and Africa in particular these days it can be summed up as follows: Keep old influence, contain China, rely on encirclement and regional allies, and build up the diplomatic and military capabilities in conjunction with regional organisations, play offense when it comes to emerging powers, and maintain continuity in waging the war on terror. Such a strategy is certainly confusing and unconvincing.

The US Administration is reactivating a multi-dimensional strategy aimed at squeezing Beijing on both economic and political fronts. These include using normal global mechanisms as well as seemingly benign bilateral initiatives. The main tool for this is the existing strategic and economic dialogue between China and the USA, which covers 365 areas. This dialogue enables the US to monitor and asses current domestic economic and political situation and identify members of Chinese government supporting the liberalization of the society. This is on the top of extending deterrence infrastructure along Chinese borders. Solidifying US army presence on the perimeter of Chinese borders and actualizing existing military alliances in the region including with China’s close neighbours-Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia, and Myanmar is part of the grand strategy. Evidently, Obama’s aim has been to “shrink [America’s] footprint in the Middle East infavor of a ‘Pivot to Asia’.

No wonder, this is being given a historical tint and justification. During the turbulent Maoist era from the 1950s to 1970s, China clashed militarily with some of its most important neighbours—India, Vietnam, the Soviet Union—and embarked on disastrous interventions in Indonesia and Africa. Such a historical narrative is fuelled by the argument from Washington that China will have several confrontations, despite its rising economic, political, and military power,causing a sharp rift between China and many of its neighbours, not to mention the ‘new welcome’ being shown to the United States in the region. Most recently, the Philippines and Japan announced that they would become “strategic partners” in settling their maritime disputes with China—anathema to Beijing, which prefers to see these disputes handled separately without attracting the attention of the US.

Regardless of the merits of China’s claims and actions, from a realpolitik standpoint these disputes and new alliances are being exploited by Washington. This is nothing short of forming “an Arc of Instability” around Chinese sea by infusing tensions over the territorial disputes and preserving the unresolved crisis in the Korean Peninsula. The goal is to leave China surrounded by suspicious and increasingly hostile countries. In response, China is shifting its attention westward to South Asia, the Middle East and Africa to expand arenas for its political and strategic influence.  The blowback of US strategy is clear. It is also in sharp contrast to the inherent benefits of soft power in international diplomacy and peacemaking opined by majority of experts in the US. This is to describe geopolitical influence that is exerted through the persuasive dissemination of culture, values, ideas, and economic aid rather than through direct projection of military or economic strength. While dealing with China it seems the US is retreating from this noble instrument of international relations.

A major vulnerability to the US, hence a critical part of its developing strategy, is Africa. Regions that were dominated by the West for centuries are now coming into China's orbit, challenging America's position at the top on a once-unipolar world. Meanwhile, along with China’s enhanced role in Africa is the reality that the U.S. is being increasingly edged out of the continent politically and economically. The United States is now seeking to counter China's economic and political inroads in the African continent. The Africa policies of both the US and China are important not only in their own right, but also because these policies serve to indicate the significant differences in these two powers' general foreign strategies and world views. The myopic focus of the US on security and counterterrorism gave China an important opportunity to make economic inroads in Africa. Nowhere in the world is the foreign-policy focus of these two nations better contrasted than in the African continent. It can be said that while the US has been busy bombing and arming, China was buying, selling, building and lending. Feeling outsmarted and outmanoeuvred the US is rushing to reshape models of regional integration in many parts of the world particularly Africa in a bid to restrain China’s growing economic expansion.

Another tool kit is multilateral negotiations and agreements on issues of global significance. The White House is unwilling to loosen its tough policy on environmental safety and issues around climate change. Partly the rational being the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol would slow down China’s growth and hamper the control exercised by the central government in remote provinces. This can be realised only through joint US-EU pressure on Beijing which is also being pursued.  It is certainly not an imaginative group of strategies.  The implication of this contest on Africa is clearly ignored. China is an increasingly important player in the politics, economic development and security of Africa. Historically, China has prioritized strong diplomatic relations and political ties with African states with an ideological aspiration anchored on the “solidarity” among the Third World countries. Arguably US policy has tremendous implications for Africa’s role in global governance and the future of its influence with major powers. The failure to perceive and prepare for this dynamic development would be dangerous, unwise and potentially detrimental in the near future for the world at large and Africa in particular. One would only hope that if the slow, poisonous polarization and competition between the two powers continues, the world will keep on sliding into an economic and political decline, and this might provide a quick reality check, and everybody will soon be forced to change course. Evidence of such change, alas, remains to be seen.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 August 2013 09:33



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