Washington. Beijing. How many divisions are in Africa? In the global tug-of-war between the US and China, the continent is at the centre of attention. The recent African tours conducted by Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, and Wang Yi, China’s foreign affairs minister, are the most recent illustration of this battle for influence.
During the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (Focac), which was held in Dakar from 28-30 November, Yi delivered – on President Xi Jinping’s behalf – a new batch of promises. A few days earlier, Blinken had also been in Dakar and forcefully assured us that the continent was “at the centre of [Joe Biden’s] foreign policy.”
Economy: Beijing imposes itself
However, what are their respective strengths and weaknesses? On the economic front, the Chinese are unambiguously in the lead. Even though many experts, and some African heads of state, seem to have partially recovered from their ‘illusions’ about China’s promised largesse, Beijing remains a key partner.
However, the Americans are still much more established on the military front than the Chinese. Beijing has only one military base on the continent, in Djibouti, while the US has – officially – more than 10 sites where some 6,000 soldiers are deployed.
This contest of strength, which is also played out in terms of ‘soft power’, is sometimes almost frontal, especially when it comes down to the two countries maintaining their access to the mineral resources on which their industries depend – more or less directly. In the DRC, where the US is taking a back seat on the mining front, revelations surrounding the details of the Sino-Congolese ‘contract of the century’ have turned into a clash between ambassadors.
In this visual overview, we look at the strengths and weaknesses of Beijing and Washington on the continent, including military installations, arms sales, exports and development aid.
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