By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States plans to counter the rapidly expanding economic and political influence of China and Russia in Africa, where the two nations use corrupt and predatory business practices, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said on Thursday.
The United States' No 1. priority will be developing economic ties with the region to create opportunities for American businesses and protect the independence of African countries, as well as U.S. national security interests, he said in prepared remarks.
"Great-power competitors, namely China and Russia, are rapidly expanding their financial and political influence across Africa," Bolton said.
"They are deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States."
Bolton's speech at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, comes as U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, leaders of the world's two largest economies, seek to resolve trade disputes that have roiled global markets and created economic uncertainty.
"China uses bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing's wishes and demands. Its investment ventures are riddled with corruption," Bolton said in his remarks.
Bolton had equally harsh words for Russia.
"Across the continent, Russia advances its political and economic relationships with little regard for the rule of law or accountable and transparent governance," he said.
He accused Moscow of selling arms and energy in exchange for votes at the United Nations, "votes that keep strongmen in power, undermine peace and security, and run counter to the best interests of the African people."
Bolton said the "predatory practices" used by China and Russia stunt economic growth in African and threaten its nations' economic independence.
China's development policies in Africa have been a concern for Washington as the United States seeks to ramp up development finance in the face of China’s global ambitions.
The head of the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corp (OPIC) said in July that China is saddling poor nations with unsustainable debt through large-scale infrastructure projects that are not economically viable.
Bolton contrasted China's "bait and switch" policies in Africa to the American approach. "The way we do business is much more straightforward," he said.
In October Trump signed legislation overhauling the way the federal government lends money for foreign development, creating a $60 billion agency intended largely to respond to China’s growing influence. The new the U.S. International Development Finance Corp combines OPIC and other government development organizations.
Xi's "Belt and Road" initiative, unveiled in 2013, aims to build an infrastructure network connecting China by land and sea to Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
Bolton said the lack of economic progress in Africa has created a climate conducive to violent conflict and the proliferation of terrorism.
He said the United States has poured billions of dollars into the continent with little to show for it. He said the administration will work to ensure U.S. aid is used more efficiently and effectively and that countries that get it invest in health and education, encourage government and fiscal transparency and promote rule of law.
"We will make certain that ALL aid to the region - whether for security, humanitarian, or development needs - advances U.S. interests," he said.
Washington will also re-evaluate its support for U.N. peacekeeping missions, he said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)