Vice President Kamala Harris embarked on a whirlwind tour of Africa against the backdrop of China’s growing global influence looming over her visit.
When her plane touched down in Zambia on Friday for the last leg of her excursion, it landed at an airport that has greatly increased in size and sports newly constructed terminals.
But it was not Washington’s assistance that provided the spark and it was also not a local development project. Rather, it was China. Beijing reached into its deep pockets to finance the infrastructure improvement and gain valuable influence on the resource-rich continent.
From the moment she stepped onto the red carpet in Ghana on Sunday, it was well-known that her mission was not simply sightseeing and normal diplomacy.
Instead, it was to bring a U.S. counterpoint across the ocean to offset China’s increasing influence. American officials said her goal was not to press leaders to “choose,” but to “expand” their options for trade and investment.
🇬🇭 "There may be an obsession in America about Chinese activities on the [African] continent, but there's no such obsession here." pic.twitter.com/kfMCZkfZ1u
— Maria (@real1maria) March 30, 2023
Both China and Russia have spread their tentacles in Africa in recent years, with Moscow notably deploying private mercenary troops to aid several governments.
But it’s Beijing that drew the lion’s share of Harris’ attention. Armed with $55 billion in mostly rehashed U.S. investment promises, the VP insisted her work was to spur “economic growth and opportunity.”
But it was Chinese funds that built a 60,000-seat stadium in Lusaka as well as roads and bridges across the nation. Tanzania has become a major trading partner with Beijing, and it was the Chinese Communist Party that funded its recent political leadership school.
Much as the U.S.-USSR rivalry developed and spread in the Cold War, the Biden administration is alarmed over the communists’ surging sway over African nations.
According to the United States Institute of Peace, Africa, and China engage in $254 billion in annual trade. That figure is four times that between the continent and the U.S. and doesn’t come with lectures on democracy and human rights.
As for Harris, the VP believes the window for African diplomacy is still open. She told reporters on her junket that the fruit of American investments must create momentum for U.S. goals in Africa to be realized.