Countering China: Extending American Diplomatic and Economic Influence in Africa

Countering China: Extending American Diplomatic and Economic Influence in Africa

On November 17, 2018, Posted by , In Africa, With Comments Off on Countering China: Extending American Diplomatic and Economic Influence in Africa

Written by Andrew Allen

Over the course of the last decade, China has taken an aggressive approach towards constructing an economic relationship with Africa. A major aspect of this relationship has been Chinese infrastructure investments in the continent, which provides African nations with low-conditionality access to capital. Although China’s economic activity has led to some economic growth in the region, it nonetheless represents a strategic challenge to the United States’ influence in Africa (Harris 2018). As such, the strategic efforts of the United States vis a vis Chinese investment in Africa should center on two objectives: increasing diplomatic ties with African nations and promoting American investment and trade in the region.

At present, China holds a significant advantage over the United States in terms of diplomatic relations with Africa. While 2014 marked the first official high-level summit between the United States and the leaders of African nations, China’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) has been held seven times since 2000, and attracted the presence of twice as many African presidents than the U.N. General Assembly this year (Dahir 2018; Smith 2018). While these summits only represent one avenue for government-to-government cooperation, they are important in setting a general economic agenda between nations. The lack of such meetings is symbolic of a lack of interest in the region itself. By putting more time and resources towards diplomacy with Africa, the United States would be able to reclaim some of the clout that it has lost in the wake of China’s economic boom in the region.

In addition to diplomacy, the United States must do everything in its power to promote American investment in and trade with African nations. The majority of trade in Africa falls under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which was approved by the Bush administration and “grants about 40 countries duty-free access for approximately 6,400 products to the [United States] (Schneidman and Weigert 2018).” However, the AGOA has yielded mixed results, and trade with Africa has suffered as the United States has begun to produce more of its own petroleum. Africa is predicted to experience an explosion of economic and population growth over the rest of the 21st century, and a lack of trade in other sectors will leave the United States behind in the region, both in terms of influence as well as the future economic benefits of activity in the region (Smith 2018).  As such, it is imperative that the United States expand the AGOA to a greater swath of different products, and act to promote the benefits of trade among businesses in the United States. Increased trade will lead to increased investment opportunities for these businesses, and will allow the United States to reap some of the benefits of economic growth in Africa while counteracting China’s increasing influence in the region (Hanauer and Morris 2014).


Dahir, Abdi Latif. 2018. “Twice as Many African Presidents Made It to China’s Africa Summit than to the UN General Assembly.” Quartz. Quartz. November 13.

Hanauer, Larry and Lyle J. Morris, Chinese Engagement in Africa: Drivers, Reactions, and Implications for U.S. Policy. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2014. Also available in print form.

Harris, Grant T. 2018. “How Chinese Loans to Africa Threaten U.S. National Security.” Time. Time. August 30.

Schneidman, Witney, and Joel Wiegert. 2018. “Competing in Africa: China, the European Union, and the United States.” Brookings. The Brookings Institution. April 18.

Smith, Noah. 2018. “The Future Is in Africa, and China Knows It.” Bloomberg. Accessed November 17.

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