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Rolling red carpet to Africans, US warns of ‘destabilizing’ China, Russia

The United States warned Tuesday that China and Russia were destabilizing Africa with their growing inroads as it rolled out the red carpet to the continent’s leaders and pledged billions of dollars in support.

Forty-nine African leaders flew into the Washington cold for the first continent-wide summit with the United States in eight years as President Joe Biden seeks to use personal diplomacy to win back influence.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, at a panel with several African presidents at the start of the three-day summit, warned of a different approach by US rivals.

Austin said China was expanding its footprint in Africa “on a daily basis” through its growing economic influence.

“The troubling piece there is they’re not always transparent in terms of what they’re doing and that creates problems that will be eventually destabilizing, if they’re not already,” Austin said.

Russia is “continuing to peddle cheap weapons” and deploying “mercenaries across the continent,” he added.

“And that is destabilizing as well.”

But the Biden administration has mostly chosen not to speak explicitly about rivals, believing it is futile to try to turn the tide on China’s massive infrastructure spending.

Biden plans to unveil $55 billion for Africa over three years. In one of the first announcements, the White House said the United States would invest $4 billion by the 2025 fiscal year to train African health workers, a rising priority for Washington since the Covid-19 pandemic.

The summit’s first day also brought in NASA, with Nigeria and Rwanda becoming the first African nations to sign the Artemis accords, a US-led bid for international cooperation on traveling to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

The Artemis accords, which already include European allies, Japan and several Latin American powers, come as China rapidly expands its own lunar program and as tensions with Russia threaten its post-Cold War work with the United States on space.

– Push on democracy –

Biden during the summit will outline US support for the African Union to gain a formal berth in the Group of 20 club of major economies, months after he threw support behind a permanent African seat on the UN Security Council.

Unlike China, which holds summits every three years with Africa, the United States plans to promote democratic values.

Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, said the president will meet with African leaders facing election in 2023.

“We would like to do everything we can to support those elections being free, fair and credible,” Sullivan said.

Successive US presidents have pursued signature initiatives for Africa, with George W. Bush launching a major push to fight HIV/AIDS that he considers among his top legacies and Barack Obama spearheading a drive to boost electricity, which US officials say has brought power for the first time to 165 million people.

Obama’s successor Donald Trump, by contrast, made no secret of his lack of interest in Africa, and Biden’s summit with the region’s leaders will be the first by a US president since Obama’s landmark first edition in 2014.

In the eight ensuing years, China’s investment in Africa has consistently outpaced that of the United States, with countries brushing aside US warnings that Beijing’s billions in infrastructure spending could put them in long-term arrears.

Ahead of the summit, China’s ambassador to Washington, Qin Gang, said his country was “sincere” in Africa” and that its investment “is not a trap.”

“We believe that Africa should be a place for international cooperation, not for major powers’ competition for geopolitical gains,” he told an event of the news site Semafor.

“We welcome all other members of the international community, including the United States, to join us in the global efforts to help Africa.”

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