If it didn’t contribute to a second cold war, it would be comical.
He may not have meant it. But that would require an abysmal ignorance of history. Sounding more like a stand-up comic than a Secretary of State, Antony Blinken finished his Africa tour with a verbal assault on China.
There’s nothing new there because the true purpose of the tour was to try to pull Africa away from China and into the American camp in the important new African theater of the Second Cold War.
According to reporting by The New York Times, China has invested $7.5 billion since 2018 in Nigeria alone, one of the countries Blinken visited. He drove on roads that were built as part of China’s Silk Road Economic Belt, a belt that Blinken hopes to cut.
What was bizarre about the verbal assault on China was Blinken’s case that Africa should abandon its growing partnerships with China in favor of partnering with the US because Chinese projects and investment in Africa will leave China’s African partners in debt to China.
In a speech in Nigeria that didn’t name China, but was clearly referring to China, Blinken criticized "major powers" for "Too often" partnering with African nations on "international infrastructure deals [that] are opaque, coercive" that "burden countries with unmanageable debt. . . ."
The comedy is that that deliberate creation of debt has been a major feature of American foreign policy since at least 1955.
The strategic concept was born a hundred years ago. After World War I, during the Wilson administration, foreign policy planners began to realize, what was for them, the exciting idea that to colonize a country, you didn’t actually have to control their territory. All you had to control was their markets and resources.
The weapon now was not bullets but the International Monetary Fund and their ammunition of structural adjustments that used debt to capture a country. The US would provide major loans to a country, then drive up interest rates, forcing the debt shackled nation to turn to the IMF for loans that came with conditions featuring structural adjustments that opened their economy up to American markets.
Third world countries, adopting a word that may have been coined by Indonesia’s President Sukarno, called this new kind of colonialism in disguise "neocolonialism." Neocolonialism is a new kind of colonialism that does not require controlling a territory. In The Jakarta Method, Vincent Bevins defines it as "the enforced conditions of imperial control without formal rule."
In 1955, at the Bandung Afro-Asian Conference that would shape the formation of the Cold War non-aligned movement, Sukarno poetically implored his colleagues to "not think of colonialism only in the classic form which we of Indonesia, and our brothers in different parts of Asia and Africa, knew. Colonialism also has its modern dress, in the form of economic control. . . . It is a skillful and determined enemy, and it appears in many guises." Sukarno was not talking about China.
The dangerous new US strategy was most fully described by Ghana’s President, Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah was opposed to Western imperialism and he wanted to rebuild the world economy so that it did not exploit the formerly colonized countries of the world. According to Bevin, by the 1960’s, Nkrumah "rivaled Sukarno on the world stage as the man who most loudly railed against ‘neocolonialism’."
In 1965, Nkrumah published Neocolonialism: the Last Stage of Imperialism. In his book, he said that "neo-colonialism is the worst form of imperialism." He explained that "foreign capital is used for the exploitation, rather than for the development of the less developed parts of the world."
A few months after the book was published, the neocolonialists offered their rebuttal in the form of a coup. In 1966, Nkrumah was taken out in a military coup that was backed by the US. In Killing Hope, William Blum describes the CIA’s complicity in the coup, which took the form of financing, advising and supporting the coup plotters.
Neocolonialism has continued into the present generation. John Perkins, whose job it was to "justify huge international loans" for massive projects that would assure the borrowing county’s "long-term financial dependence and therefore political loyalty" describes the process in The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.
Perkins says that American neocolonialism ensnares countries "in a web of debt that ensures their loyalty." They make projects look profitable and sell them on loans "so large that the debtor was forced to default on its payment." In their debt, the US and the IMF could now set terms and make demands on the debtor nation that are favorable to the US. Those demands might take the form of control of or access to resources, military bases or political loyalty and loyalty in voting at the United Nations.
They can also take the form of political or economic restructuring. According to Naomi Klein, when countries were forced to go to the World Bank or the IMF, those institutions saw their "economic catastrophes not as problems to solve but as precious opportunities to leverage. . . ." Seeking debt relief and emergency loans, "the fund responded with sweeping shock therapy programs" that required the country "to revamp its economy from top to bottom." US aid was only available if the country signed off on those demands. An IMF senior economist who designed structural adjustment programs in Latin America and Africa would later confess that "everything we did from 1983 onward was based on our new sense of mission to have the south ‘privatize’ or die; towards this end we ignominiously created economic bedlam in Latin America and Africa. . . ."
The US made investments and entered into projects that indebted African nations and "created economic bedlam" in Africa. Whatever China is or is not doing in Africa, Antony Blinken and the US have a lot of nerve telling the countries of Africa to trust the US and partner with them because partnering with China will burden them with debt.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.