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Zero-sum games


Western countries' renewed efforts to engage with Africa are exclusive and competitive

The strategic value of Africa has been growing in the era of big power competition and the major power rivalries in Africa continue to intensify.

The United States led a joint statement on combating racism at the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in February 2021, soliciting the joint signature of African countries and strengthening political consensus. France and Germany are engaging in apology diplomacy to rebuild their image in Africa.

The European Union has said that it will go beyond the "donor-recipient" model and establish an "equal partnership" with Africa. The EU countries have turned their attention to free trade cooperation and focused on seeking practical benefits. The EU has stepped up post-Cotonou Agreement negotiations and sought to establish a free trade zone between Europe and Africa. The United Kingdom held an investment summit in Africa after withdrawing from the EU, signing new trade agreements with nearly 20 African countries. The US under the Joe Biden administration has strived to reverse the retrogression in economic and trade cooperation with Africa, seized the opportunity of the African Continental Free Trade Area and promised the continent strong support.

With officials and scholars in the United States increasingly reflecting on the country's military involvement in Africa, the US changed its military intervention means to alternatives such as military assistance, joint exercises and anti-terrorism cooperation. Contraction and withdrawal were also France's main trends in Africa in 2021.

Western countries' cooperation with Africa is actually casting off the burden. There is less and less hard cash but more and more ideas and slogans in their cooperation with Africa. Emerging countries buck this trend and continue to increase their assistance to the continent.

Russia has actively expanded its cooperation on military technology with Africa. In the past two years, it has signed cooperation agreements with Mozambique, Angola and more countries, accounting for more than 30 percent of the arms sales in the African market. Turkiye has made many achievements in infrastructure construction in Africa, which has driven the development of the Turkiye-Africa relations. The Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are expanding their participation and influence in the affairs of the Horn of Africa. India has increased cooperation with African countries to develop healthcare and actively promoted vaccine diplomacy with the continent.

Meanwhile, China is Africa's major economic and trade partner.

Some countries competing for geopolitical influence in Africa, have mapped out exclusive and competitive strategies toward Africa. Competition with China has been the key consideration for these countries.

France is highly concerned about China's influence in Africa, and its policy toward Africa is increasingly targeted at China, and it has frequently sought to smear China-Africa ties with unfounded debt-trap allegations, and launched a vaccine assistance race to contain the anti-virus cooperation between China and Africa.

The US is advancing its strategic deployment of geopolitical competition against China in Africa in an all-round way. The US has encouraged US and Western enterprises to seize the market and crowd out Chinese investment in Africa under the umbrella of the Blue Dot Network and Build Back Better World and other initiatives. In the meantime, the US military's Africa Command has also repeatedly played up the "China threat theory" in Africa, keeping an eye on China's security layout on the west coast of Africa.

As the continent with the largest number of developing countries, Africa's most urgent demand is development, rather than taking sides in big power competition. Since China and the US entered the era of competition, African media and scholars have worried that their competition in Africa will mean trouble for the continent and African countries will suffer.

In the post-pandemic era, there is broad space for multi-party cooperation on the African continent, which confronts the most arduous task of economic recovery in the world. Africa has huge and diversified demands for development and its market is broad enough. All parties in the international community can give play to their strengths there and carry out mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation with it. Their economic and trade cooperation with Africa should not be carried out with the mentality of crowding other countries out of the African market, but should closely integrate Africa's independent and sustainable growth with its own development needs to achieve win-win results. Africa faces prominent global governance issues, such as climate change, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, and counter-terrorism, which are not only Africa's problems, but also the world's common challenges. These issues require active cooperation and efforts from all parties. Whether from the perspective of Africa's own needs or global development and stability, Africa should be a demonstration area for multilateral cooperation, rather than an arena for big power rivalries.

In its white paper titled "China and Africa in the New Era", China put forward four principles to guide its cooperation with Africa, including "upholding openness and inclusiveness". In President Xi Jinping's video speech at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, he stressed: "China stands ready to work with other international partners to support Africa in pursuing peace and development." The China-Africa Cooperation Vision 2035 states that China is willing to conduct extensive triangular cooperation with African countries under the principle of full respect. Adhering to the principles of friendship, mutual benefit, openness and inclusiveness, China-Africa cooperation conforms to the needs of Africa and the general trend of the times and it will certainly progress well and continue to move forward against the background of major changes.

The author is an assistant research fellow of the Institute of African Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn