US attempts to counter China's growing clout in Africa

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The United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's marathon tour of Africa indicates that Washington is unwilling to "loose its grounds" to China's growing influence in the continent, a senior South Africa academia and political analyst said on Monday.

It is clear that China's increasing presence in Africa holds potential to change the relationship between Africa and the west, particularly Washington, said Ralph Mathekga, director of Clear Content Research and Consulting.

"I would not say that the U.S. has interests in countering China, rather it intends to not loose grounds as China is rapidly increasing its presence on the continent," Mathekga told Xinhua in an interview.

Clinton, currently in South Africa on a four-day visit, launched her diplomatic journey to African nations including the continent's youngest state - South Sudan in an attempt to strengthen diplomatic and economic ties with Africa.

"The growing presence of China on the African continent has a potential to change the relationship that Africa has with western powers such as the U.S., particularly when it comes to the patterns of development on the continent," Mathekga said.

He said the reliance of Africa on western financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) might change with China's growing presence in Africa.

"This may also reduce the policy influence of western countries on development paths taken by Africa countries," said Mathekga, who used to work for the Economic Development Growth and Equity (EDGE) and South Africa National Treasury.

Through BRICS, a grouping acronym that refers to the countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, China is pushing for the establishment of a BRICS Bank, an idea welcomed by many African countries and expected to reduce Africa's dependency on both IMF and World Bank. The creation of the bank, if successful, is expected to boost China's role and investments in Africa.

However, Mathekga said it was believed that China has Africa's development at heart. It was unrealistic to think that the main drive for China's presence on the continent is to further China's own interests, and the development of Africa is secondary to that objective, he said.

"However, African countries are in a better position to negotiate the terms of their relationship with China than it can be said about their relationship with western powers."

On the influence in Africa, Mathekga said that Washington is becoming more interested in the continent as many African countries are becoming more politically stable.

"The visit (by Clinton) to Africa is to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to furthering trade relations with Africa, given the growing realization that Africa is poised for rapid economic growth in the forthcoming years," he said. 

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