Status competition between the U.S. and China on the stage of Africa

Vanessa Leon, Florida International University


This case study traced the American reaction to Chinese activities in Africa from the year 2000 to the present. Two keys to understanding how this reaction might unfold were power-transition theory, which predicts that rising states will challenge the hegemon in an international system in order to revise the rules, and status-based competition theories. The U.S. appeared delayed in reacting to competition in Africa from its rising challenger there, China, until it understood that competition to be status-based. A clear, progressive reaction on the part of American leaders was traced. First, there was a split between the reactions of members of Congress and diplomats on-the-ground, who were concerned about China in Africa around the year 2005, and leaders in the White House and State Department, who publicly denied there was any kind of problem. White House and State Department leaders’ reaction then grew somewhat as relative gains concerns were activated by economic and power losses in Africa. These leaders then engaged in quiet diplomacy with China and Africa, perhaps to try to socialize China and to moderate its less favorable activities. The U.S. at this time did not seem to be fully aware of the status threat China was presenting. However, in about 2011, the U.S. appears to have begun to perceive the status losses it had sustained in Africa. Through policy changes, discourse, summitry and public diplomacy, including social media, leaders launched what appeared to be a public campaign, designed to position the U.S. as opposed to the values of China, and as a better partner for Africans. This can be seen as status competition because the U.S. had little to gain economically in Africa and its domestic public remained unconcerned with Africa. Loss of status appears to have motivated the U.S. to take action when nothing else had, inspiring policy changes vis-a-vis Africa, the first-ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, two presidential trips to Africa, and a public diplomacy campaign designed to showcase American strengths.

Subject Area

International Relations

Recommended Citation

Leon, Vanessa, "Status competition between the U.S. and China on the stage of Africa" (2016). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI10255413.