Lusaka - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday warned Africa that China does not always have its interests at heart as economic ties expand, and offered the US as an alternative.
Clinton arrived in Zambia to begin a five-day Africa trip that will also take her to Tanzania and Ethiopia to highlight the Obama administration's drive to help African countries meet challenges ranging from HIV/AIDS to food security and accelerate often impressive economic growth.
She quickly zeroed in on the fast expanding clout of China, which pumped almost $10bn in investment into Africa in 2009 and has also seen trade soar as Beijing buys oil and other raw materials to fuel its booming economy.
"The United States does not see these Chinese interests as inherently incompatible with our own," Clinton told reporters in Lusaka, adding that Washington believed everyone benefited as Beijing assumes "a greater and more responsible role" in world affairs.
"We are however concerned that China's foreign assistance and 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 utilised the talents of the African people in pursuing its business interests," she said.
Clinton's comments echo Washington's concern that China's quick economic push into Africa - including billions of dollars in development aid unfettered by political or economic requirements - risk scuttling efforts to help the continent develop a more mature and transparent economy.
Zambian President Rupiah Banda, whose country has attracted Chinese investment in mining and in May received a $180m loan to upgrade a major road, said Africa's ties with Beijing were healthy and long-standing.
"Our country has been in a close relationship with China since before independence (in 1964)," Banda said, adding that Beijing had helped many African countries weather the recent financial crisis.No interest in World Bank job
Clinton's trip has been overshadowed by news that she has been in discussions with the White House about moving on next year to become the first female head of the World Bank.
Reuters on Thursday quoted three sources familiar with the matter as saying these discussions were under way, but the White House and State Department denied it and Clinton herself on Friday said it was incorrect.
"I have had no discussions with anyone. I have evidenced no interest to anyone. I do not have any interest, and am not pursuing that position," Clinton said.
Revelations about Clinton as a potential Bank nominee are sensitive because they come during a period of significant foreign policy challenges for the Obama administration.
In Lusaka, Clinton grooved with an ululating chorus of African businesswomen who have benefited from U.S. help at a meeting on Agoa, the U.S. programme signed into law by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, in 2000 to give trade preferences for some 37 eligible African countries.
"The most successful development programme is one that will someday make itself unnecessary," Clinton said, describing a range of U.S. programmes aimed at strengthening governance and accountability and supporting grassroots economic growth.
To get there, she said Africa's leaders still needed to deliver on promises to cut local trade barriers, streamline regulation and expand opportunities, particularly for women.
U.S. officials want Congress to extend AGOA when it expires in 2015, but say it is time to take a hard look at ways to address nagging bureaucratic and infrastructure problems, widespread corruption and often lopsided trade.
More than 10 years into Agoa, US trade with sub-Saharan Africa remains small, accounting for just over 1% of total U.S. exports and about only 3% of US imports.
Oil from countries such as Nigeria and Angola accounted for 91% of the $44bn in U.S. imports from Agoa countries in 2010, raising questions about how US trade benefits can be used to encourage more diversification.