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China-US rivalry in Africa fuelled by coronavirus

Written by on June 9, 2020

As Africa braces itself for a surge of coronavirus infections, both China and the US are claiming to be Africa’s greatest supporter, but there is more at stake in this escalating rivalry than simply tackling the virus, writes BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was adamant that “no country will rival what the US is doing” in terms of supporting the fight against Covid-19 in Africa. And he went further to say that “no nation ever has, or ever will” do more to support global health.

Mr Pompeo was speaking on a conference call with a small group of African and Africa-based journalists. I was one of them.

At the time – last month – I put the bluster about “no nation ever doing more” down to the now-familiar rhetorical habits of the Trump administration, which was evidently trying to polish its internationalist credentials in the aftermath of its decision to turn its back on the World Health Organization (WHO) at the height of a global health crisis.

It seemed churlish to point out that the $170m (£134m) in new aid that Mr Pompeo was bragging about giving Africa was almost certainly matched – or exceeded – by the donation of just one Chinese billionaire – Jack Ma.

But a few days ago, I saw an article about Africa in a Chinese state-controlled media outlet, the Global Times, and was reminded of Mr Pompeo’s remarks, and struck by the extent to which Africa has become a part – a small corner, perhaps – of Washington and Beijing’s new cold war battlefield, and that – as in the previous, official Cold War – a sudden crisis, like Covid-19, is inevitably transformed into some sort of proxy conflict.


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