(Bloomberg) — US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen blamed Russia for worsening Africa’s economic problems and took a separate swipe at China over its lending practices, in an effort to contrast America’s actions with the behavior of its biggest rivals for influence on the continent.
The address laid out the Biden administration’s vision for mutually-beneficial economic cooperation between African governments and the US.
Turning to China, Yellen called on Beijing to “provide meaningful debt relief to help countries regain their footing.”
In recent years, China has become the largest lender to developing countries worldwide. But when governments run into trouble — as many have in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and amid rising energy and food costs — Beijing has dragged its feet on multilateral debt restructuring deals.
“Countries need to be wary of shiny deals that may be opaque and ultimately fail to actually benefit the people they were purportedly designed to help in the first place,” she said. “This can leave countries with a legacy of debt, diverted resources and environmental destruction.”
The remarks come just two days after Yellen met face-to-face for the first time with her counterpart Chinese counterpart, Liu He, in Zurich, where they emphasized the benefits of open communication and played down the two countries’ numerous disputes.
The speech also occurred two days before Yellen is scheduled to fly to Zambia, a country that went on a spending binge under its former president, Edgar Lungu, financed largely by debts to China. The size of the obligations, which helped bankrupt Zambia in 2020, became known only after Lungu’s 2021 election defeat.
From Zambia, she’ll travel to South Africa, arriving a day after the country hosts Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. South Africa is also scheduled to conduct naval exercises off its eastern coast with Russian and Chinese warships Feb. 17 to Feb. 26.