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The commander of the newly created U.S. Africa Command, or Africom, carefully sidestepped a question about whether the new command, with headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, was created with an eye toward strategic competition with China, which is expanding its influence into the continent.

“I can’t judge what the Chinese do or don’t do, but I would say where there are common objectives we would look to be complementary to what we do in the hopes of creating a more stable continent of Africa,” said Army Gen. William E. Ward, noting that many nations are involved in Africa, including China, India, Russia and European states.

“We do what we do because it’s in our national security and our foreign-policy interest to do our work,” he told reporters at a breakfast meeting on Oct. 8.

“So, for us, where there are common objectives in pursuit of stability, where there are common objectives in pursuit of increased security, I think we would look forward to doing our efforts as cooperatively as possible so that those security and stability effects had the best chance of being realized in whatever part of the continent that we work.”

Gen. Ward said threats in Africa include “extremism, terrorism, illegal activity in territorial waters, ungoverned and undergoverned spaces,” while illegal immigration and corruption pose “internal threats.”

Africom will help Africans “be in a better posture to provide for their own security,” he said.

“So where we can provide assistance to them in that effort, that’s where our command comes into the mix there.”

China’s government indirectly has criticized the creation of the command. The Communist Party Central Committee newspaper People’s Daily has questioned the U.S. military presence, stating that the vast majority of African nations think the command “operates for oil and resources rather than for the benefit and interests of the African people.”

A weekly newspaper published by the state-run Xinhua news agency reported that U.S. and other Western powers are working to “squeeze out China” from Africa.

“Africa is no longer the exclusive domain of certain western powers, and certainly it is not the new battleground for confrontation among the powers in the 21st century as alleged by certain Western media,” the Xinhua-owned Cankao Xiaoxi reported Jan. 7. “Instead, it should be the new venue for equal competition and cooperation in development among all countries in order to bring about the rejuvenation of this ancient continent.”

Thomas J. Christensen, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told a Senate hearing in June that “we remain concerned with a general lack of transparency regarding China’s foreign assistance practices in Africa.” He stated that “on occasion, it appears that China’s policies serve to undercut the efforts of others to use investment and development assistance to produce improved governance.”

China also uses foreign aid as a trade tool that appears aimed at securing “natural resources and access to markets,” Mr. Christensen said.

Additionally, Chinese arms sales to repressive regimes in such places as Sudan and Zimbabwe “contribute to instability and endanger China’s long-term interests on the continent.”

Chinese Embassy press spokesman Wang Baodong could not be reached for comment.

Jiang Yu, a Foreign Ministry press spokeswoman, was asked last year if the command was targeted at China and said China’s presence is “conducive to peace, stability and development of Africa, and … welcomed and supported by African countries and people.”

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