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September 17, 2014

Ebola, China, and the USA: China asked to do more


A number of articles are contrasting China and the USA’s efforts in helping combat Ebola in West Africa. Parallels have been drawn between the two superpower’s trade with the continent and their contribution to fighting Ebola. China is not coming off good in the comparisons.

According to Quartz, an American business news publication:

China has close investment and business ties with the affected African nations, is Africa’s biggest trading partner, has spent billions of dollars on infrastructure projects and mining deals there, and has an estimated 20,000 citizens in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Big Chinese companies like Huawei have pledged not to pull out of the region despite the growing outbreak.

But China’s humanitarian aid efforts are being dwarfed by the US’s, in both money and manpower. The US already has spent $175 million on efforts to fight the disease, and the additional troops could cost $750 million. China’s total pledged aid is $37 million.

Meanwhile Bloomberg View references the free-riding accusation made recently by American president, Barack Obama:

Chinese foreign investment has been a powerful force for African economic development (and, sadly, for the retirement funds of African kleptocrats). But China isn't going to build up its soft power unless its government and state-owned enterprises in Africa are willing to dig a little deeper. Meanwhile, the paltriness of China's assistance relative to both its commercial presence and to the U.S. also raises a difficult question for American strategists and bean counters: Especially in Africa and the Middle East, how do you get China to stop free-riding in a way that still protects the prerogatives of an aging hegemon?

In a recent interview with the New York Times Barack Obama said China is a “security free rider” in Iraq. After his interviewer noted that “China today is the biggest energy investor in Iraq,” and yet it is the USA that is being called upon to fight militants in the country, Obama said: “They are free riders. And they have been free riders for the last 30 years and it’s worked really well for them... Nobody ever expects them to do anything when this stuff comes up.”

An editorial in Xinhua, the Chinese government-owned news agency, however said Obama’s remarks were “an attempt for Washington to find a scapegoat for its failed policy in Iraq.”

Raymond Mpubani, Wits China Africa

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