China's massive investments and business dealings in Africa have not always met international standards and steps should be taken to ensure that Chinese interests on the continent do not conflict with those of the African people or take advantage of them, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday.
In Zambia at the start of a three-nation tour of Africa focused on increasing trade between Africa and America, jump-starting development and the improving rights and health of women, Clinton said Washington does not regard China's growing involvement in Africa as a threat to the U.S. But, she said China's activities in Africa should be scrutinized for signs that they may not benefit African nations or their citizens.
"China's presence in Africa reflects the reality that it has important and growing interests here on the continent, including access to resources and markets as well as developing closer diplomatic ties," Clinton told reporters at a news conference in Lusaka with Zambian President Rupiah Banda. "The United States does not see these Chinese interests as inherently incompatible with our own interests."
"We are, however, concerned that china's foreign assistance investment practices in Africa have not always been consistent with generally accepted international norms of transparency and good governance and that it has not always utilized the talents of the African people in pursuing its business interests," she said.
Hungry for energy, raw material and jobs for its exploding and increasingly wealthy population China has in recent years turned to Africa for oil and minerals to fuel its growth. China is now a leading investor in many African nations where it uses imported Chinese workers in the oil industry as well as to build stadiums, roads, dams and other infrastructure projects. Environmentalists and local labor leaders have complained about the impact of some of those projects and the fact that local labor is not used.
Clinton said the United States wanted to work and cooperate with China and other outside investors "to make sure that when we are engaged with Africa we are doing it in a sustainable manner that will benefit the nations and people of Africa." She said U.S. diplomats throughout Africa had been asked to confer with their Chinese colleagues on the matter but had also been instructed to assess the "overall role in their respective countries." That comment suggested that the U.S. harbors suspicions about China's intentions in Africa.
For his part, Banda was unapologetic about Zambia's reliance on China as an investor and purchaser of its raw materials, notably copper.
"We have always worked with the Chinese," he said, noting that China's continued "appetite" for copper helped Zambia emerge quickly from the global economic crisis. But, he said he agreed with Clinton that foreign projects must adhere to minimum standards and not violate local laws.
"Those who come here to do business must respect our laws and must look after our people in a decent manner," Banda said. "We appreciate their being in this country, but we don't exempt them."
Speaking earlier, urged African nations to tear down continental trade barriers and promote business-friendly policies to boost standards of living and development. She challenged African leaders to adopt reforms that will further integrate their economies by curbing protectionism, reining in corruption and reducing armed conflict.
The first U.S. secretary of state to visit the southern African nation in 35 years, Clinton urged officials and entrepreneurs from 37 countries to take advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, an 11-year old U.S. initiative that aims to boost trade with Africa. She noted that since her husband, former President Bill Clinton, signed the act in 2000, non-oil U.S.-African trade has quadrupled to $4 billion. And with the greater prosperity has come greater stability, she said.
"Today Africa is in such strong position to build on this progress," she told the annual conference of AGOA partners. "Yes, there are still many challenges in many areas, but the region is undeniably more stable, more democratic, and more prosperous than a decade ago."
She lamented that African countries are not taking full advantage of the initiative, which allows qualified nations to export thousands of products to the United States duty-free. Only a handful of the 6,500 products covered by the act are actually being sent to America and the most common export is still oil.
Boosting exports will make Africa less reliant on aid at a time when governments in developed countries, including the United States, are being forced to rethink traditional development assistance, she said. Clinton added that increasing intra-African exports will be essential, as will removing thorny trade restrictions, combatting corruption, improving transportation infrastructure and quelling conflict.
"A business is only as successful as the environment in which it operates," she said. "A strong economy requires a supportive business climate that empowers every entrepreneur to do her very best work."
Clinton is the first secretary of state to visit Zambia since Henry Kissinger came in 1976 to lay out the Ford administration's policy for southern Africa as revolts against white minority rule in South Africa and what was then Rhodesia were intensifying.
Clinton arrived in Zambia from the United Arab Emirates, where she attended an international conference on Libya. After Zambia, she heads to Tanzania and Ethiopia before returning to Washington next week.