By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday that African countries should weigh Chinese loans carefully, while adding that Washington was not trying to keep Chinese investment away from the continent.
"We are not in any way attempting to keep Chinese dollars from Africa," Tillerson told a news conference in the Ethiopian capital during his first diplomatic trip to the continent. "(But) it is important that African countries carefully consider the terms of those agreements and not forfeit their sovereignty."
Beijing has pumped billions into infrastructure projects, though critics say there is often little upside for local economies because Chinese firms and labour build the roads and rails.
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.
"It was not appropriate to criticise the relations of his hosts when he was a guest there with another country," he said.
Tillerson arrived in Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous nation, on Wednesday and visited the African Union headquarters on Thursday. The complex was fully funded and built by China and is seen as a symbol of Beijing's thrust for influence and access to the continent's natural resources.
His comments followed a speech earlier this week in which he criticised "China's approach" to Africa which he said encouraged dependency through "opaque contracts" and "predatory loan practices".
"We welcome Chinese participation, but we hope they will follow international rules, international norms and respect the sovereignty of countries," he said on Thursday.
He made no mention of the political situation in Ethiopia. The prime minister resigned suddenly last month in what he described as a bid to smooth reforms. A state of emergency was swiftly imposed but protests in the restive Oromia region have continued.
Tillerson was due to meet with Ethiopian officials on Thursday afternoon before flying to tiny Djibouti, host to sprawling military bases owned by the U.S., China, Japan, France, and Italy.
He will then visit Kenya, a key U.S. ally in the fight against al Shabaab Islamist militants in Somalia, before travelling to Chad and Nigeria, which are also battling to contain Islamist insurgents.
(Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)