Daniel Larison on China and ‘Our African Friends’

It is this mixture of self-righteousness, arrogance, and a patronizing attitude toward the other states that keeps alienating other governments.

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Near the end of an Associated Press report on Vice President Harris’ visit to Africa this week, John Kirby, a national security spokesman for the White House, was quoted saying this:

John Kirby, a White House national security spokesman, said this past week that African leaders are “beginning to realize that China is not really their friend.”

“China’s interests in the region are purely selfish, as opposed to the United States,” he said. “We are truly committed to trying to help our African friends deal with a spate of challenges.”

Kirby’s comment is an example of the mindset that explains why the U.S. struggles to improve its relationships with so many other states in Africa and elsewhere in the world. It is this mixture of self-righteousness, arrogance, and a patronizing attitude toward the other states that keeps alienating other governments instead of giving them reasons to want to cooperate with Washington. It is never a good idea to tell other governments what their real interests are, and it is usually a mistake to lecture them about their dealings with other states.

Kirby’s implication is that African leaders have previously been foolish or duped into thinking that China is their “friend,” but he suggests that they are wising up now. Claiming that African leaders are “beginning to realize that China is not really their friend” is remarkably condescending and insulting. African leaders are obviously able to understand that outside major powers are self-interested, and they would know as well as anyone else that there are no “real” friends in international politics. Even states with a long history of good relations are not really friends, but they have enough interests in common that they are able to work together constructively for their mutual benefit.

Then there is the insulting pretense, or delusion, that the US isn’t motivated by selfish concerns and wants to “help our African friends” out of some general benevolence. To cite just one example of how ridiculous this is, the US wasn’t so interested in helping our “friends” with access to vaccines at the height of the pandemic. Washington has tended to neglect their concerns and interests except when they can be shoehorned into either the “war on terror” or “great power competition.”

One of the biggest recurring problems in US relations with African states is the tendency to view them as means to some other end, and African governments are understandably wary of being used by great power rivals as part of a contest that will not benefit them. Pretending that the US is there to help “our African friends” while China is just out for its own selfish ends is not credible, and no African government is going to buy what the White House is selling. If the US wants to improve relations with African governments, it needs to stop insulting their intelligence and show them the respect that is owed to equal partners.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

14 thoughts on “Daniel Larison on China and ‘Our African Friends’”

  1. We, the G-7, as well as the Chinese are modern day colonialists/imperialists with different perspectives about how one should exploit Africa’s resources.
    Kirby’s scolding/propoganda does not come from a moral higher ground, instead it’s just one colonial power complaining about another one.

      1. I agree with ZaSu on this. While China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a much friendlier and less direct type of colonialism, it’s colonialism nonetheless.

        All large countries are evil, and that includes China. The U.S. is by far the worst, but that doesn’t mean that the other ones aren’t bad also.

        1. Where’s the data and statistics? Right now you’re talking like a scumbag politician with made up bull crap

          1. Data and statistics? About what? Your question makes no sense.

            As to the rest of your comment: Please keep your childish insults to yourself. If that’s all you can say, you should be on the playground with the rest of the children, not commenting on sites like this.

  2. In Africa, China and Russia definitely have more friends than we do. I can’t even name a single African nation on friendly terms with us…

    1. Even South Africa, which shares very liberal views about gay marriage and LGBTQWXYZ rights–their defense minister openly states that the US treats them as an enemy due to their relationship with Russia, which of course isn’t very liberal on LGBTQWXYZ matters.

  3. I don’t agree that Kirby’s statement was “self-righteous, arrogant, [or] patronizing…” It’s just an outright lie, provably false, done for the purpose of convincing someone (Congress?) that things are getting better for U.S. relations in Africa.

    Actually, the claim that the U.S. wants to help African nations is pretty laughable for anyone not brainwashed by U.S. propaganda. So there’s some entertainment value to this statement.

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