US urged to share with China

Former US president Bill Clinton said the United States must attempt to create a future it can share with China instead of pursuing a "zero-sum game", especially in Africa.

Clinton's comments came during a trip with his daughter to Africa to visit projects supported by the Clinton Foundation this week.

While Clinton praised the work done by the US government and private foundations to build healthcare infrastructure in Africa, he said the US is falling behind China in helping the continent foster basic economic growth.

"I don't believe we spend enough money on basic economic growth initiatives. So I won't argue that the Chinese are going to get a lot of goodwill," said Clinton to the British Broadcasting Corporation early this week in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

China has funded many infrastructure projects in Africa in recent years, building roads, railways, bridges, stadiums and power plants.

According to a report by US-based AidData, China sent US$75 billion (S$95 billion) in official aid to Africa between 2000 and 2011, which is comparable to the amount of US aid to the continent over the same period.

"I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing for America if African countries appreciate both what we try to do to help their kids stay alive and what the Chinese do to give them better infrastructures and I think that we've got to try to create a future that we can share with the Chinese, not one where everything is a zero-sum game," said Clinton, who will turn 67 on Monday.

A conference about African infrastructure held last month in Johannesburg called on China and other countries to invest in the continent's infrastructure. A World Bank report showed that Africa each year lacks at least US$93 billion necessary to build infrastructure.

As the first African-American president of the US, Barack Obama has been criticised for not paying enough attention to Africa. Critics say he must take great leaps to compete with the African Growth and Opportunity Act that Clinton established and the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief created by former US president George W. Bush.

"But I do think that he cares about Africa and I'll be surprised if he doesn't spend quite a bit of time on (the continent) in his last three years," Clinton said of Obama.

Weeks after taking office in March, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China strongly supports building infrastructure in Africa during his tour of three African nations.

Zhang Jun, head of the international economic affairs department at the Foreign Ministry, said building infrastructure in Africa is a high priority for China.

China has provided assistance in 184 infrastructure projects in Africa since the 1950s, Zhang said. He added that nearly 90 per cent of loans China issued to Africa were used in infrastructure projects. China loaned US$5 billion to the continent in 2006 and US$10 billion in 2009.

China replaced the US four years ago as Africa's largest trade partner. Bilateral trade approached US$200 billion last year, from only US$10 billion in 2000.

Anthony Carroll, vice-president of Manchester Trade who has more than 20 years of experience working in Africa, said China's enormous amount of investments has played an important role in the continent.

"Chinese investments and loan assistance has gone into areas that the US has vacated for 15 and 20 years. (China's) large infrastructure projects and long-term vision that (it brings) to projects I think has also helped Africa grow," Carroll said in May. "(China) also brings with (it) a development experience which is more relevant to many of the African economies."

He also said China understands many of the challenges Africa faces.

Patricia Aidam, a researcher at University of Ghana, said China is doing great work in Africa. She said the nation's no-strings-attached loans are beneficial because not all African countries can meet the loan conditions set by Western countries.