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Africa should avoid forfeiting sovereignty to China over loans -Tillerson

Reuters  |  ADDIS ABABA 

By Aaron Maasho

ABABA (Reuters) - U.S. 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 U.S. 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 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.

The growing Chinese lending to the continent has also attracted criticism from some Africans, who say China's agenda is to feed its appetite for African raw materials like oil, timber and minerals, and secure contracts for its firms.

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.

The met Hailemariam Desalegn, who resigned as but is still acting in the post awaiting a replacement. Details of their discussions were not released.

Tillerson said after meeting his Ethiopian counterpart that the answer to political turmoil in was greater freedoms.

"It is important that the country moves on past the state of emergency as quickly as possible," he said.

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

(Additional reporting by in Ababa and Omar Mohammed in Nairobi; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, March 08 2018. 20:17 IST