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Africa is a Popular Destination This Week for Major Power Diplomacy

Chinese Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Xue Bing (left) and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) were both in Addis Ababa this week, while Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen (center) visited Egypt. AFP

Senior diplomats from the United States and China, along with the Prime Minister of Denmark, are currently in Africa. No doubt they all have watchful eyes on each other:

  • CHINA: Beijing’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Xue Bing, made a surprise appearance in Addis Ababa on Tuesday where he reaffirmed China’s support for the Tigray peace process and pushed back on accusations that China engages in predatory lending in Africa. (XINHUA) INSIGHT: Xue is ostensibly there to ensure China is relevant in the ongoing peace process but so far he’s had little impact.
  • UNITED STATES: Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on the implementation of the Tigray peace process but did not, as some expected, restore Ethiopia’s free trade access to the U.S. market. (REUTERS) INSIGHT: Unlike previous Secretary of State visits where U.S. competition with China was always a prominent issue, this time China has barely come up in Blinken’s rhetoric or in the press coverage.
  • DENMARK: Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is traveling to Egypt in a dual capacity, both representing her country and as an ambassador of Europe. She has framed her visit as a way to avoid Europe from becoming “isolated in a new world” amid a “battle for influence on the African continent.” (AL MAYADEEN ENGLISH) INSIGHT: While Denmark is by no means a “great power,” it is a prominent development funder in Africa. Frederiksen’s visit follows French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent tour of Africa. Together they highlight Europe’s renewed enthusiasm to challenge Russia and China’s influence in the region.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? While high-level visits from U.S. and European leaders have increased dramatically in 2023 compared to previous years, the key question is whether this enhanced engagement will lead to tangible outcomes on the ground or if the focus is more on posturing against the Chinese and Russia. At this point, it’s still too early to tell.

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