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China takes advantage of US blunders to penetrate deeper into Africa


China's President Xi Jinping and his American counterpart Joe Biden shake hands as they meet on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. [AFP]

The United States is going through a period of reflection on and reassessment of its relations with other countries. It is in anguish because it is declining as a global power despite being the biggest economy in the world, being a leader in military technology, and having unmatched capacity to sanction other countries for holding different positions.

It is losing partly because its credibility, especially in the global South, is low and depleting due to domestic and international factors. It compares poorly with its main competitor on the world stage, China, because of its negative attitude towards other peoples and countries. It suffers self-righteousness which tends to be obnoxious to the victims of its arrogance. This is not the first it is self-questioning.

There was serious reassessment of its global standing in the late 1970s and early 1980s after it suffered a series of geopolitical humiliations despite claiming to be the beacon of freedom. To the question of why they were losing, the Americans concluded that it was because they supported assorted tyrants whose only value was to claim they were anti-communist.

While deciding to dump their tyrants who had outlived their usefulness, they tried to recreate their image as people lovers, instead of tyrants. They pumped money through NGOs and civil society outfits as agents of post-modern colonialism that replaced neo-colonialism. Championing ‘democracy’ became chic and could lead to regime change; some even claimed that coups were ‘democratic’. The United States is currently facing another challenge to its global dominance, the growing attraction of China, its main power competitor, in the global South.

It is once again confused as to why, despite claims to represent freedom and related platitudes, it is not winning. Irked by seeming Chinese success in penetrating Africa, presumably at the expense of the West, it has gone out of its way to try and convince Africans that China is exploitative.

After hearing promises of what Americans can do, sceptical Africans wait to see the fulfillment of the promises, and it takes time. They also learn not to burn Chinese bridges while waiting for the American ones. Unlike the West, which dithers and looks for excuses not to meet commitments, China delivers on what was agreed.

Ability to deliver on projects increases China’s level of global acceptability, which annoys the United States. While the United States deals with Africa disdainfully partly because of inherent racism, China takes advantage of American blunders to identify with the plight of the Global South. The US likes bullying its way, does not worry about the adverse consequences of its actions, and is then baffled that others chart independent paths.

Its double standards generate resistance and expose it as a duplicitous force that does not respect the rule of law for all. Subsequently, even those in the West, like France, resist appearing like vassal states. It appeared ridiculous and captive to Israeli whims by defending Israel in flattening Gaza. In contrast, China’s approach to others is deliberately the winning opposite; it does not insult, its project costs are reasonable, it delivers what is agreed, and avoids geopolitical ridicule.

While the three factors of humility, costing, and delivery favour China, it is the arrogance of the United States that accounts for its geopolitical losses. Confusing what John Gaddis termed ‘brawn with brains’, its policymakers ignore the concerns of others to engage in provocative acts that occasionally give it temporary thrills before plunging into geopolitical pits.

The subsequent loss of global prestige and believability sends it into self-assessment and attempted change of policy direction. It talks of winning ‘hearts and minds’ only to look ridiculous to those it seeks to win because it lacks sincerity.

Its platitudes, as Rwanda President Paul Kagame noted, are just hypocrisy. Believing it is a pristine ‘garden’ and the rest of the world is jungle, its negative attitude to others ensures it repeatedly loses geopolitically.   

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