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China has had an economic presence in Africa since the 1950s and will do whatever it takes to protect its multibillion-dollar deals there.

China has held major summits with African leaders every three years since 2000, alternating between Beijing and an African location, to advance China’s economic interests.

African leaders attending these meetings on trade and investment increasingly have received loans for China’s economic access — and China increasingly has forgiven the debt. In 2009, with 50 African leaders attending the summit, China committed to more than $15 billion in new loans and canceled an equal amount of debt from the poorest nations. In 2012, Beijing committed an additional $20 billion in loans to African countries — gaining more access to Africa’s natural resources.

Chinese investments have paid off, with trade volume growing from $9 billion in 2000 to more than $150 billion in 2012. U.S. trade, meanwhile, remains at $95 billion. Mr. Obama’s trade policy has a long way to go to catch up.

John Price is a former U.S. ambassador to Comoros, Mauritius and the Seychelles Islands. He currently serves as a resident scholar at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics. He is the author of “When the White House Calls” and regularly writes commentaries on Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.