Madam Vice President Harris: Here is how USA can compete with China in Zambia, devoid of Confrontation


By Mwansa Chalwe Snr

There is no doubt that the majority of Zambians do not understand the background to the recent unprecedented flurry of high level visits to Zambia by top USA government officials. This is culminating in this week’s visit by the Vice President Ms. Kamala Harris. These visits are all about fighting Chinese influence in Zambia and the whole of Africa.

In the past 32 years, when America was busy fighting wars everywhere, starting from January 16, 1991 with the first Gulf War, the Chinese were busy consolidating their influence in Africa. And for a long time, when investors have knocked on their doors, and the Africans opened the door, the only person standing there was a Chinese. The results are there for all to see.

China’s “Going out” Policy and Zambia

In her paper, titled “Africa in China’s foreign policy”, Yun Sun argues that: “China’s approach to Africa, underpinned by its “Going Out” strategy, has economic, political, security and ideological dimensions. On the economic front, China wants to secure Africa’s natural resources for its domestic growth, target Africa’s market for its finished products, and have a strong investment presence in the continent. Politically, China wants to lock in Africa’s support for its global positions and interests, particularly the One China policy. On security, China’s priority is to protect its investment and people in Africa. And ideologically, China wants to spread its model, the “Beijing Consensus”, across Africa.

It is very crystal clear that China’s intentions for Africa – even if it tries to camouflage some of them, by emphasizing the “Win-win” mantra, are very clear to the informed. African countries should be aware that China is not here to do them favours, neither is the United States or other countries.

Ever since China launched the Belt Road initiative (BRI) in 2013, and became Africa and Zambia’s biggest trading partner and creditor, its growing influence has met with sharp criticism from the USA about its “dangers” Finally, in 2021, the USA passed a law on how it was going to stem Chinese influence around the World including Zambia. The law is called Strategic Competition Act 2021.

The question one may ask is: Why is a small country like Zambia being targeted by the USA? There are two main reasons. The first is the success of the August 2021 elections, and the thirty year record of peaceful democratic transfer of power from October, 1991. The consistency of Opposition Parties unseating incumbent governments, peacefully is rare in Africa. And this has impressed Americans to use Zambia as a democracy template, in its fight against Authoritarianism. The second is that, Zambia happens to be the epi-centre of Chinese influence in Africa, both in diplomatic and commercial terms.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC), has as a matter of policy, encouraged its citizens and investors to come to Zambia in droves according to academics of China’s Hebei University of Economics and Business, Cheng Jian and Comfort Lubinda.

“Zambia is a well-known and popular African country at the grassroots level in China and attracts more migrants because of the image of Zambia, promoted by the Chinese government, as a safe, politically stable and friendly country. Zambia enjoys a unique position as the show-piece of the success of Sino-African relations as well as the ‘experimental region’ of new Chinese diplomatic policies in Africa,” The researchers wrote in their paper on Zambia.

USA Strategic Competition Policy with China

The United States of America formally declared that it was in competition with China by enacting the “Strategic Competition Act. And on 23 March, 2021, US President, Joe Biden, held a press conference and drew the battle lines between the World’s two leading economic powers. Biden identified China as the number one challenger to the United States position as the only global super power. Biden made it clear that he wanted to unify and mobilize the US so as to meet what he called one of the “great challenges of our time” – the “ambitions of an autocratic China.”

“I see stiff competition with China. China has an overall goal — and I don’t criticize them for the goal. But they have an overall goal to become the leading country, the wealthiest country in the world and the most powerful country in the world,” Biden said. “That’s not gonna happen on my watch,” he added.

President Biden’s views were supported by the then Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez. When debating the passing of the Strategic Competition Act, he argued that the Act will help the USA government mobilise all strategic, economic, and diplomatic tools to enable it compete effectively with China, and the challenges it poses to national and economic security for decades to come.

“China is strategic competition – not because that is what we want or what we have tried to create but because of the choices that Beijing has and is making,” said Robert Menendez, a Democrat of New Jersey. “China today is challenging the United States and international community across every dimension of power – political, diplomatic, economic, innovation, military, even cultural – and with an alternative and deeply disturbing model for global governance”.

Proposed Change in Approach by USA

Zambia and other African countries are attracted to China due to its differentiated approach on how it deals with them. China has a “Five Nos” Policy in dealing with Africans which include non-imposition of its values and culture; non-interference in local politics. It is just common sense that if the USA has to compete with China, it has to make some changes in how it deals with Zambia and other Africans. There will have to be a need of some mind set changes and paradigm shift in the USA, for them to be able to compete effectively with China in Zambia in particular, and Africa in general going forward.

The first change has to be in the attitude. The USA’s new approach to our relationship should be based on partnership and cooperation and not domination and paternalism. Secondly, there is need to have a more consultative approach. It is Zambians who know best their development priorities as currently expressed in National Development Plan 8. The USA should not come with already packaged strategies of competition with China from Washington. There is need for local input for strategies to be successful.

There should also mutual respect and benefits in the new Partnership. It is beyond question that Africans have found the lack of respect by the United States and the West for Africans very disturbing. This has forced them to gravitate towards China. The African Union’s commissioner for infrastructure and energy, Amani Abou-Zeid expressed the views of most Africans. She appealed to the West to change their current benevolent attitude, when she talked to Euro money from Cairo.

“Stop treating Africa as if we are unable to govern ourselves. When you talk to us, talk to us about how we can partner with you – and in a faster way,” she said. “Africa’s focus is about securing financial access to fund development for its fast-growing population,” said Abou-Zeid. “We need serious partners; we need people who can deliver. We have had bad experiences and good experiences with literally everybody; and everybody learns, including the Chinese.”

There is also a need for a change in attitude by the American Private Sector. Their current view is that Africa is an area of conflict and poverty, and they only see risk in Africa. They do not see the opportunities for trade and investment that it provides, which their Chinese counterparts have exploited. The major culprit in perpetrating this negative narrative, is the American media. It is time that the media owners in the US revised their editorial policies from promoting negative images of Africa only. If not the Chinese influence will continue growing uncontested, and the USA will be left out.

In the light of its Strategy to compete with China in Africa, the USA government may need to rethink about its allocation of resources between the Cold War relic USAID, and the newly established United States International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) which is Private Sector focused. It makes a lot of sense to re-allocate some of the resources from USAID in order to compete with China. The DFC could be used as a conduit to incentivise corporate America to invest in Zambia.

How USA should Compete with China in Zambia

The two great powers’ areas of competition are as follows: economic aggregate, manufacturing, high technology, finance, military and global governance. But as Zambians we are more interested in commercial related issues as that is what leads to economic development and poverty reduction and that is where we would prefer the USA to laser focus in its competition with China. That is the only way that the USA will win hearts and minds of Zambians. We are neither interested in Military bases nor Cultural imperialism like the promotion of LBJT rights which is a fringe issue and not a priority in our society.

The U.S should use a differentiation strategy in competing effectively with China in Zambia. The U.S should focus on those key areas that China has neglected but which are crucial for Zambia’s development so as to to win hearts and minds of ordinary Zambians

In general, the United States can compete with China in Zambia and Africa by the aggressive promotion of private sector development. According to Judd Devermont, director of the Africa Program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies: “The United States, however, needs to do more to convince U.S. companies that remain squeamish, sceptical, or uninformed about investing in the region. Specifically, it should identify and promote sectors where U.S. businesses have competitive advantages.”

The main areas that the United States should focus on in Zambia in its competition with China are: private sector development promotion, corruption and illicit financial flows, capital market development, democracy and human rights promotion, local talent utilization and capacity building and economic diversification in areas such as agriculture production, clean energy generation, manufacturing and technology transfer.

The top most problem that Zambian Entrepreneurs face is the shortage of capital for development, growth and innovation. Zambia needs many Venture Capital Institutions to be set up. Venture Capitalists in the U.S. could be incentivised to can establish subsidiaries here. There are billions of dollars’ worth of projects in mining, energy and other sectors by Zambians and residents which merely looking and Partners to take off.

Zambia’s private sector has been starved of capital, and yet America’s capital markets are awash with excess and “idle” cash. China is not providing Capital to Zambians but to its nationals. This is an opportunity and an area that the United States of America should laser focus on, like the Chinese have focused on infrastructure. Zambia needs.

One of the top proponents of investment in Africa, is the African American Congressman Gregory Meeks of the New York’s 5th District. He argued in an Op-Ed in Quartz Africa that Africa is much more than conflict and poverty. It does provide opportunities for trade and investment for Americans.

“America’s capital markets, pension and investment funds, and financial institutions are leaders among their global peers, and are uniquely positioned to play a key role in meeting Africa’s capital needs. In our absence, African nations will continue to seek capital, assistance, and technology from those who do not share our values and priorities for democracy, good governance, human rights, and environmental protection. Africa has been starved for capital, yet its continued development requires massive investments in infrastructure, energy, and food production,” He wrote.

The U.S government through its new Development Finance Corporation should play a productive role to fund robust market analysis, bilateral and regional trade missions and technical assistance particularly with trade facilitation and encourage the Private Sector to invest in Zambia. The new 1.3 billion African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) provides an important opportunity for American businesses to exploit.


As Zambians, competition between the U.S. and China should be welcomed. It must be stated that neither China nor US can possibly meet all Zambia’s development needs and aspirations. Neither power should aim at or want to own and monopolize Zambia for itself. Zambians will reject that.

On Zambian soil, the type of relationship that we want to have with China and U.S, going forward, is one which is in the best interests all the three countries and engenders peace. The relationship should embrace the principles of non-conflict and non-confrontation, mutual respect, cooperation and healthy competition. It should avoid adversarial rivalry in order to achieve genuine “Win-Win” situation.

In the light of the new geopolitical and economic competition that has started between the United States and China, it is incumbent upon the Zambian policy makers to carve out and implement effective and efficient policies, and lobbying strategies to benefit from this competition. The impression one gets is, at present, as a nation we do not seem to have a plan or strategy or the knowledge for this novel emerging rivalry of the 21st Century.

The bottom line is that any strategy that Zambia crafts, should exploit the different comparative advantages of the U.S. and China to our benefit. We should not be made to choose one, from the other.

Mwansa Chalwe Snr is a Chartered accountant and Author. He is an independent financial commentator and analyst. He is the author of : Contact:


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