By He Wenping
As China increasingly puts its political, economic and trade ties with Africa on the fast track, US politicians and think tanks have viewed the developments with mixed reactions.
One school of thought maintains that China's unstoppable rise and its expanding influence in Africa has made it a major competitor in the post-Cold-War world economy. This is especially true for energy resources and other key strategic resources.
The other, less mainstream view, is more positive. It holds that it is short-sighted to simply see China as a rival in Africa. The US and China can become partners in African cooperation.
In mid-2006, the Council on Foreign Relations independent task force evaluating and formulating possible US policies in Africa released a lengthy report titled More Than Humanitarianism: A Strategic US Approach toward Africa.
It devotes a whole chapter to China's growing influence on the continent, saying: "China comes to Africa in the twenty-first century not only with a need for natural resources, but also with the financial resources and political influence to pursue its objectives vigorously."
The task force sees this as a challenge to US interests in Africa.
Amid criticism of China's African policies by Western human rights activists, non-governmental organizations and research institutions and think tanks, some positive assessments have also emerged in recent months. The official US response to this discussion has been positive, apparently aware of the potential for US-China cooperation.
In November 2005, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer visited Beijing for strategic discussions on bilateral cooperation in Africa. This was an historic first.
It indicated that African development has gained prominence in the Sino-US bilateral agenda. The common understanding both sides reached in the discussions is that China and the US share some "common concerns" over African affairs and have identified numerous areas for cooperation.
On the eve of the second China-US Strategic Dialogue in Washington in early December 2005, Frazer held a press conference on African issues. The assistant secretary of state made clear the US stand on China's African policies as well as the US view on African affairs.
Frazer said at that time, "I don't see this kind of relations as rivalry. China's interests or activities in Africa have not become direct competition against America.
"China has the right to work in Africa or any country or region, and Africa still needs people to provide more beneficial assistance."
She continued, "As a matter of fact, I believe both sides have many areas for cooperation (in Africa)."
Indeed, China and the United States will find many meeting points for their interests if the two sides focus on promoting development and stability in Africa instead of on their different values and modes of development.
These areas include:
Pushing for security and stability in Africa and removing terrorist threats. Both China and the United States share concerns over the potential threat of terrorism in Africa, as the continent is faced with many security challenges posed by existing terrorist hotbeds.
The African Union still expects the international community to provide funding, equipment, training and experience as it builds its own peacekeeping strength.
Helping Africa's economic and political development.
Developing countries that suffer from difficulties in economic development and serious social conflicts cannot rely on copying the multi-party democratic election system to solve their problems.
China can share its experience in state administration and political rule characterized by gradual political reform and development of the rule of law.
Promoting sustainable development of energy resources in Africa. Both China and the US are major energy-consuming countries and do not wish to see irrational rises in oil prices.
Both China and the US want to ensure sufficient production of oil and natural gas for future energy demands.
Helping African countries better adapt themselves to globalization. The development and security of rich countries cannot be built on a widening gap between the rich and the poor. Frightening cracks have appeared in the playing field leveled by the bulldozer called globalization. The international community is obligated to pull Africa out of the fissure.
Raising the standards of education and public health in Africa. The United States' Century Challenge Account and Presidential Anti-AIDS Emergency Assistance Program and China's Sino-African Cooperation Forum Action Plan focus on these two key areas.
These major areas in which China and US share interests in Africa support the view that the two countries have many areas for cooperation.
Above all, each side should understand the other's presence in Africa from a historical perspective.
China respects the United State's and Europe's legitimate interests in Africa. At the same time, the US and Europe should understand the uniquely Chinese pattern of Sino-African cooperation by looking at it from the perspective of historic development and results.
China and the US can cooperate in Africa in these areas:
Security: More and stronger efforts can be made in beefing up peacekeeping in Africa, while nurturing and enhancing the continent's own peacekeeping capabilities.
The two countries should first exchange intelligence and experience in conventional and unconventional security. They should also join efforts in helping Africa build up a strong peacekeeping force by cultivating each country's own comparative advantages in such areas as funding and training (the US) and weaponry (China's conventional arms are effective and affordable).
China has already joined the UN multi-national peacekeeping forces for missions in Africa. The US should be more active in dispatching peacekeeping troops to the continent.
Political development: The achievements of Western countries in building democracies are no doubt a treasure trove for nations of the world.
However, national conditions vary dramatically from country to country in political, economic and social development.
Therefore, the initial stage of discussing political development should focus on exchanging information. This should include discussions on experiences and lessons in development and criteria for political development assessment.
Infrastructure development: China enjoys an excellent record in infrastructure projects with low cost and high quality built in Africa over the past decades.
The United States has the advantage of capital and project management skill. Therefore, China and the United States can jointly push forward Africa's development through coordinated investment and construction of infrastructure.
For instance, the two countries can help Nigeria modernize its customs and port management as well as modernize its laws and legal system while improving the country's roads and railway system.
Energy resources development: As major energy-consuming countries, China and the United States should not only cooperate closely with oil-producing nations but also with each other. They should smooth out relations between energy reserves, capital, technology and transportation. They should exchange information on raising the economic efficiency of energy resources and protecting the environment while exploiting energy resources and developing oil derivatives and renewable energy.
Trade and investment: Increasing opportunities for African trade partners to do business and invest. This includes further opening the China and US markets to African products and increasing investment in Africa. This requires better coordination between the US-African Economic Growth Act and the China-Africa Cooperation Forum Action Plan.
Education: The development of human resources has become a key topic for the China-Africa Cooperation Forum. The Chinese government has markedly increased capital outlays in this area in recent years, mainly for bringing Africans to China for training.
For decades, numerous US philanthropic institutions along with churches and social organizations have been promoting elementary education in local communities in Africa.
China and the US can cooperate in such areas as supplying teaching facilities, training teachers and building education networks. This could include building schools, especially rural elementary schools.
Health: Each of the two countries has its own advantage in this area. China-African cooperation in medical care has been successful for decades. Highly effective Chinese traditional herbal medicine has been developed for malaria. The US leads the rest of the world in AIDS testing, prevention and treatment.
China and the US should consider an arrangement whereby the United States provides capital for building hospitals and China supplies medical professionals to train African doctors and nurses to fight disease.
All said, if China and the US cooperate more closely and substantially on development projects in Africa, this will promote the healthy development of China-US ties while increasing benefits for the African people.
The author is a researcher with the Institute of West Asian and African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
(China Daily April 10, 2007)