In Africa, Clinton takes subtle swipe at China


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a press conference at Dakar University on Aug. 1, 2012, after meeting the Senegalese president. (AFP/Getty Images)

Delivering an implied warning about the dark side of China’s global search for energy and resources, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged African nations Wednesday to be careful about making foreign business deals that take advantage of the continent’s vast natural resources but offer little besides money in return.

Clinton opened a 10-day trip across Africa with broad promises of American help, friendship and trade that she said are based on democratic principles and offer African nations a fair shake.

“I will be talking about what that means, about a model of sustainable partnership that adds value rather than extracts it,” Clinton told a university audience in this West African capital. “That’s America’s commitment to Africa.”

Clinton never mentioned China directly, but her message was clear. As China grows, it is increasingly looking to Africa as an energy supplier, often through opaque, state-sponsored oil deals that U.S. officials complain are unfair to potential competitors from the United States and to Africans.

“America will stand up for democracy and universal human rights even when it might be easier or more profitable to look the other way, to keep the resources flowing,” Clinton said. “Not every partner makes that choice, but we do and we will.”

China surpassed the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner in 2009, with the energy sector leading the change. Africa accounts for an estimated one-third of Chinese oil imports, behind only the Middle East.

China faces rising international criticism for allegedly exploitative or environmentally damaging business arrangements in Africa and has been accused of a willingness to look the other way in cases of thuggery and corruption.

Clinton acknowledged that the United States and other Western nations, with centuries of exploitative trade and business enterprises in Africa, are hardly blameless.

“The days of having outsiders come and extract the wealth of Africa for themselves, leaving nothing or very little behind, should be over in the 21st century,” she said to applause at the University of Cheikh Anta Diop.

Senegal, the most important democratic U.S. partner in French-speaking West Africa, was Clinton’s first stop by design. The Senegalese have resisted the coups that define much of modern African political history, as well as the Muslim extremism taking hold elsewhere on the continent.

The fear of extremism and terrorism undergirds Clinton’s choice to visit Uganda, which is led by one of Africa’s long-surviving strongmen but is also a key U.S. partner in counterterrorism and other security goals.

Clinton will also visit the new nation of South Sudan — where the Obama administration is worried about a war with Sudan or a prolonged economic decline — along with Kenya, South Africa and Malawi. She will attend the funeral in Ghana of President John Atta Mills on her way home next week.

Anne Gearan is a national politics correspondent for The Washington Post.

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