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U.S unveils strategy to counter ‘predatory’ China, Russia in Africa

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The Trump administration has unveiled a new Africa policy focused on combating the “predatory” practices of China and Russia, and ending what it calls “indiscriminate assistance” and “unproductive, unsuccessful and unaccountable” UN peacekeeping missions.

Announcing the new policy, the national security adviser, John Bolton, said it would put US interests first, so would be built around trade and countering the threat terrorist groups like Isis and al-Qaida could pose to the US.

Bolton said that Trump had approved the policy on Wednesday and the administration would begin executing it immediately. That is likely to have a rapid impact on UN peacekeeping missions. The US has already demanded a change of the mandate of the peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, refused to increase funding of a mission in the Central African Republic, and has threatened to cut funds for the mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is up for renewal of its mandate in the New Year.

“The United States will no longer provide indiscriminate assistance across the entire continent, without focus or prioritization. And, we will no longer support unproductive, unsuccessful, and unaccountable UN peacekeeping missions,” Bolton said, in a speech at the Heritage Foundation thinktank in Washington. “We want something more to show for Americans’ hard-earned taxpayer dollars.”

As a backdrop to the policy, Bolton said that the US was losing ground to China and Russia, who he said were using their investment and trade to gain direct leverage on African governments, often through corrupt means.

“China uses bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands. Its investment ventures are riddled with corruption, and do not meet the same environmental or ethical standards as US development projects,” Bolton said.

As an example of Chinese leverage, he said Zambia was in debt for up to $10bn to China, which was poised to take over Zambia’s national power company to recoup the debt. Bolton said Djibouti had also fallen into overwhelming debt to China, which had established a military base, close to the US base Camp Lemonnier, and recalled an incident in which laser beams coming from the Chinese base had targeted US pilots, inflicting eye injuries on two of them.

He added that Djibouti may soon also hand over the Doraleh container port on the Red Sea to Beijing, which would tilt the balance of power on the Horn of Africa in China’s favour.

Meanwhile, Bolton accused Russia of selling arms and energy in exchange for votes at the UN. Those votes he added, helped keep “strongmen in power, undermine peace and security, and run counter to the best interests of the African people”.

“The predatory practices pursued by Chinaand Russia stunt economic growth in Africa; threaten the financial independence of African nations; inhibit opportunities for US investment; interfere with US military operations; and pose a significant threat to US national security interests,” he said.

He said the US foreign assistance programme was under review, which would be completed soon, and would involve different vehicles for delivering aid, but Bolton did not explain how that would counter Chinese and Russian influence.

He pointed to past US generosity as a donor, saying that between 1995 and 2006, the US gave as much to the continent in aid as all other donors combined.

“Unfortunately, billions upon billions of US taxpayer dollars have not achieved the desired effects,” Bolton said, and made clear the Trump administration would take a far more sceptical view of UN peacekeeping operations.

“We will only back effective and efficient operations, and we will seek to streamline, reconfigure, or terminate missions that are unable to meet their own mandate or facilitate lasting peace. Our objective is to resolve conflicts, not freeze them in perpetuity,” Bolton said.

“And, we will not provide legitimacy to missions that give large payouts to countries sending poorly equipped soldiers who provide insufficient protection to vulnerable populations on the ground.”

Bolton added: “Establishing peacekeeping missions is often the end of creative thinking … There needs to be a lot more focus on resolving the underlying conflict.”

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