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African countries should weigh Chinese loans carefully: Rex Tillerson

Tillerson said Chinese investments "do not bring significant job creation locally" and criticised how Beijing structures loans to African government

Reuters  |  Addis Ababa 

Rex Tillerson
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) speaks during a news conference with African Union (AU) Commission Chairman Moussa Faki (R), of Chad, after their meeting at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

US said on Thursday that African countries should be careful not to forfeit their sovereignty when they accept loans from China, the continent's biggest trading partner.

Tillerson is using his first diplomatic trip to the continent to bolster security alliances on a continent increasingly turning to for aid and trade.

He may also seek to smooth relations after US reportedly dismissed some African nations as "shithole countries" in January. later denied making the comment.

"We are not in any way attempting to keep Chinese dollars from Africa," Tillerson told a news conference in the Ethiopian capital. "It is important that African countries carefully consider the terms of those agreements and not forfeit their sovereignty."

The is the leading aid donor to but surpassed it as a trade partner in 2009. has pumped billions into infrastructure projects, though critics say the use of Chinese firms and labour undermines their value.

Tillerson said Chinese investments "do not bring significant job creation locally" and criticised how structures loans to

If a government accepts a Chinese loan and "gets into trouble", he said, it can "lose control of its own infrastructure or its own resources through default." He did not give examples.

Russian Sergei Lavrov, visiting on Thursday, told reporters it was inappropriate for Tillerson to criticize China's relationship with African countries.

"It was not appropriate to criticise the relations of his hosts -- when he was a guest there -- with another country," he said. Many African governments enjoy close ties with both and

Kenya, for example, inaugurated a $3.2 billion railway funded by last year. For the last three years, has received more than $100 million annually in U.S. security assistance.

Asked about Tillerson's criticism of China's approach on the continent, Kenya's said: "This country is engaging with partners from across the world driven by our own interests and for our own value."


Tillerson arrived in Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous nation, on Wednesday and visited the headquarters on Thursday. The complex was funded and built by and is seen as a symbol of Beijing's thrust for influence and access to the continent's natural resources.

is home to some of Beijing's biggest investments, from a railway to that opened last year to factories and industrial parks.

Earlier this week, Tillerson criticised "China's approach" to which he said encouraged dependency through "opaque contracts" and "predatory loan practices".

Ethiopia's resigned suddenly last month and a state of emergency was imposed but protests in the restive Oromia region have continued.

Tillerson said after meeting his Ethiopian counterpart that the answer to political turmoil in was greater freedoms and said state of emergency should be lifted as quickly as possible.

Tillerson reiterated previous calls for African states to cut ties with

has more than a dozen embassies on the continent. The administration has said that earns hard currency from arms deals with and the trafficking of wildlife parts from

Tillerson is due to fly to Djibouti, host to military bases owned by the U.S., China, Japan, France, and

He will then visit Kenya, a key U.S. ally in the fight against al Shabaab Islamist militants in Somalia, before travelling to and Nigeria, which are also battling to contain Islamist insurgents.

Analysts say has focused mainly on security concerns in at a time when China, and other nations are ramping up diplomatic and business links.

"When you look at the set of countries that are being visited I think it kind of reinforces the perception that security, indeed, is the overwhelming focus," said Brahima Coulibaly, the director of the Growth Initiative at

First Published: Thu, March 08 2018. 19:15 IST