Riyadh doesn’t have to choose between American and Chinese technology, “in the same way that you can have a McDonald’s and a Burger King on the same street,” Saudi Ambassador to the US Princess Reema bint Bandar told reporters during President Joe Biden’s visit last month.
That kind of pick-and-mix approach to foreign policy has set up a competition for influence. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pointedly invited Argentina, Indonesia, India and SA, none of whom have sanctioned Russia, to his Ukraine-focused G-7 summit in late June.
The soft power tussle was on show in Africa last month, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov won praise for Moscow’s nuclear power technology. He used the opportunity to stress Russia’s historic support for African liberation movements, while making the case that sanctions were to blame for food insecurity rather than a Kremlin blockade of Ukraine’s grain ports that is only just starting now to ease.
Putin’s Media Blitz on Africa Food Crisis Sparks Alarm in Europe
Moscow has backed up that message with a media barrage. French President Emmanuel Macron, on his own Africa tour, denounced Russia for conducting “a new kind of hybrid world war” on the continent.
It’s been a similar playbook by China in Africa. An African country alternates with China in hosting the triennial Forum of China Africa co-operation, which the Chinese president traditionally attends and meets one-on-one with almost every head of state. When the FOCAC is held in Beijing the red carpet is rolled out, with tiny Equatorial New Guinea treated with equal importance to Nigeria — a level of attention absent in Washington.
China knows that each African state has one vote at the United Nations and its institutions, and that’s paid off diplomatically. Earlier this year, the US submitted a letter decrying China for alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang to the Human Rights Council with 47 signatories, mostly European allies. Cuba responded with a statement on China’s behalf backed by 62 countries, mostly in the Global South.
Blinken’s decision to travel from Asia to SA on Aug. 7, then the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, looks like an attempt to regain the narrative against not just China but Russia, too.
The ruling ANC in SA has close business ties with Russia. Billionaire oligarch Viktor Vekselberg was the biggest donor to the ANC in a recent quarterly disclosure and Chancellor House, the ANC’s investment company, owns a stake in his manganese mine in SA.
Biden said he’ll welcome African leaders to Washington in December for a summit that will “build on our shared values to better foster new economic engagement.” As well as tackling pandemic readiness, climate change and food security, the meeting will “reinforce the US-Africa commitment to democracy and human rights,” Biden said.