March 16, 2023
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today asked a top U.S. general about opportunities in African countries where China has scaled back infrastructure promises or exploited debts. In a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, King brought attention to growing “buyer’s remorse” among African countries that have partnered with China and urged General Michael Langley – Commander of United States Africa Command – to seize opportunities for the U.S. to capitalize on these broken promises.
“We’ve been having a lot of discussion today about China’s activities in Africa. Is there any buyer’s remorse? China has sort of scaled back on Belt and Road, to some extent, and some of the debt issues are now coming to the fore,” said Senator King. “Are the countries in Africa starting to rethink some of those commitments? Buyer’s remorse is probably the best term.”
“Senator, great question. I traverse for that, for any indicators of that. Lo and behold, I saw a story this morning, out of Kenya. They've taken to the streets, of how China has been taking advantage of them in the deals that they strike,” replied General Langley. “There's other indicators across the continent, other stories of debt-trap diplomacy….”
“If that's the case, and it appears that it is, does this create an opening for us to be more active in infrastructure projects, support for development in these countries, that we can come in and show that it can be done in a much more efficient and skilled way?” asked Senator King.
“Absolutely, Senator. We do have that. We see that as an opportunity,” replied General Langley. “As we call it, a consolidated strategic opportunity, and we need to match it up with key strategic activities. And whereas we can use a whole government approach, we can use Prosper Africa, Digital Africa, and get these programs off the ground and going. I know that I met with Assistant Secretary Molly Fee last week, and also I was over at USAID, and we have a plan of action, collectively, whole of government, to be able to put it in motion.”
Continuing his questioning, King, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called for greater forward thinking on the continent to address Chinese control over critical resources like lithium.
“You used a phrase earlier that I noted, about the Chinese efforts to monopolize and get a hold of these rare earths and minerals, forward thinking by the [Chinese Government]. We haven't been doing that forward thinking,” said Senator King. “We've allowed them to take control of, for example, lithium. An essential element for EV batteries, 87% of the processed lithium that goes into EV batteries in this country comes from China, and we haven't been doing that forward thinking. I'm suggesting that that's something we should start to think about, and it should be a combination of government action, but also the private sector. We don't do everything by the government here.”
“Senator, that's correct. We don't tell the good news story enough,” replied General Langley. “But, on legislation passed, such as Prosper Africa, it's also a message to our private industry to invest in Africa. That's what I talk about when I talk to the country teams, as they are heavily recruiting back in the US, for investment in African nations and states.”
A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator King is recognized as one of the Senate’s leading, thoughtful voices on the national security and foreign policy challenges posed by China. Earlier today, he introduced bipartisan legislation to establish a commission tasked with developing a comprehensive whole-of-government approach for how the United States should address the economic, security, and diplomatic challenges posed by China.