Tillerson heads to Africa with China in sights

The Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., on Tuesday.

AFP-Jiji WASHINGTON (AFP-Jiji) — Washington’s top diplomat set off for Africa on Tuesday to tour countries that form a new theater for competition with the United States’ ambitious great power rival China.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Chad and Nigeria will take him to new battlefields in the United States’ long war against Islamist extremism. But looming over the journey will be a different and arguably more important long-term challenge — the rise of China as an economic and diplomatic power to rival the West.

In a low-key speech to the George Mason University in Virginia before setting off, Tillerson insisted on the importance of Africa to U.S. interests.

“Our country’s security and economic prosperity are linked with Africa’s like never before,” he said, noting the continent’s rapid population increase and growing economies.

But he spoke mainly in generalities, and State Department officials played down the idea that the exploratory trip will produce any “deliverables.”

Critics, meanwhile, stressed that recent U.S. engagement with the continent has been led by the Pentagon and focused too narrowly on ongoing counterterrorism battles.

And they noted that Tillerson’s own plan to slash the State Department budget for diplomacy and aid by 30 percent leaves him ill-prepared to match China’s targeted investment.

Just as he had done before leaving for Latin America last month, Tillerson warned African countries that Chinese interest in their economies is not disinterested.

While America, he argued, seeks to build partnerships with African countries “by incentivizing good governance,” China’s approach “encourages dependency.”


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