C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIJING 000367
STATE PASS USAID
SUBJECT: AFRICAN EMBASSIES SUSPICIOUS OF US-CHINA DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION IN AFRICA
REF: (A) 09 BEIJING 955 (B) 09 BEIJING 1311 (C) 09 BEIJING 2836
Classified By: Economic Minister Counselor William Weinstein. Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) African Embassy officials told EmbOffs that many in the African community were uncomfortable with the concept of US-China development cooperation in Africa. China’s fast, efficient, “no strings attached” bilateral approach is popular in the region, as is the PRC preference for infrastructure over governance projects. African officials fear that U.S. or European interference will slow down the assistance process and tie conditions to Chinese aid. In the past, the EU angered many African countries when it proposed trilateral cooperation. The Chinese subsequently backed out of discussions citing lack of African support. In addition, African officials believe that competition between donors has had positive consequences for African development, giving the African countries options after several decades of a largely “Western” development model. Despite apprehensions, one official believed that U.S.-China cooperation could be positive if carried out with active African participation. The UK‘s Department for International Development (DFID) was offered as an example of an organization that has managed to collaborate well with China in Africa. End summary.
Threatening the Chinese way
2. (C) During a February 8 lunch, Kenyan Ambassador to China Julius Ole Sunkuli said he and other Africans were wary of the U.S.-China dialogue on Africa and felt Africa had nothing to gain from China cooperating with the international donor community. Sunkuli claimed that Africa was better off thanks to China’s practical, bilateral approach to development assistance and was concerned that this would be changed by “Western” interference. He said he saw no concrete benefit for Africa in even minimal cooperation. Sunkuli said Africans were frustrated by Western insistence on capacity building, which translated, in his eyes, into conferences and seminars (REF C). They instead preferred China’s focus on infrastructure and tangible projects. He also worried that Africa would lose the benefit of having some leverage to negotiate with their donors if their development partners joined forces.
Lessons from the EU experience
3. (C) South African Minister Plenipotentiary Dave Malcolmson echoed the same reservations in a February 9 meeting. According to him, lessons could be learned from the EU experience in 2008. When the EU put together a policy paper on trilateral development cooperation in Africa, many African countries were annoyed because they were not consulted on the issue. They argued that the third party in these nominally trilateral discussions was conspicuously absent. They perceived this as a Western attempt to reign in China’s Africa assistance. Malcolmson said the African resistance prevented any concrete progress coming out of this initiative as the Chinese then subsequently backed out of the discussion, citing African opposition.
Africans don’t want conditions, they want options
4. (C) African countries principally fear that the U.S. and other Western countries will use trilateral cooperation to try to attach governance conditions to Chinese development. Malcolmson, who previously worked at the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) secretariat, recalled that governance projects received a lot more support from
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Western donor countries than infrastructure projects. He opined that although governance, peace and security are crucial to African growth, they must be accompanied by measures to reduce poverty and build infrastructure.
5. (C) Malcolmson echoed Sunkuli’s comment that African countries also fear losing their bargaining power. China’s emergence in Africa as a counterbalance to U.S. and European donors has been very positive for Africa by creating “competition” and giving African countries options. He recalled that after the 2006 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit, when China announced its commitments to Africa to much international media fanfare, traditional donors changed their attitude. They recognized that they had to measure up to China and “came calling.” The EU proposed infrastructure projects (after having defacto given up supporting these types of projects) and the World Bank began to support more agriculture projects.
The DFID example and recommendations for the future
6. (C) Malcolmson clarified that if U.S.-China cooperation leads to a real escalation of resources then it could be a positive step, but many Africans expect that it would slow down development. He cited the DFID’s relationship with China as an example of healthy cooperation. DFID’s success has come from focusing on small projects and working largely outside formal channels (REF A). Malcolmson recommended working through regional African organizations like the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) as a way to alleviate African concerns. If both China and the United States contribute resources to promising African development projects, then Africans will welcome trilateral cooperation. He said this would have the added benefit of encouraging the Chinese to venture beyond bilateral development assistance and support regional projects.
7. (C) Sunkuli and Malcolmson’s comments are a potential warning sign as the USG prepares for the upcoming U.S.-China Sub-Dialogue on Africa. As the PRC continues to stress a policy of “non- interference” in the internal affairs of other countries, China could well use any voiced African opposition as an excuse to stop or slow progress on further discussions or collaboration. We should be careful to pick projects that would have broad support within the African community, preferably African-initiated and led, to get the development cooperation dialogue started on the right foot. In addition, we should clearly articulate the benefits of our cooperation to our African counterparts and include African voices in the debate on the U.S.- China-Africa relationship