Nominee for U.N. ambassador joins Mitt Romney to warn about Chinese influence in Africa

Say U.S. must step up involvement there to overcome growing threat by China.

(Carolyn Kaster | AP file photo) Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks on Nov. 24, 2020, after Joe Biden picked her as his nominee to be America’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney asked one of America’s top longest-term diplomats with Africa on Wednesday what inroads China is making there against U.S. influence. Her answer both worried him and gave him hope.

Romney, who constantly warns against what he sees as growing Chinese threats, asked that during a confirmation hearing for Linda Thomas-Greenfield, nominated by President Joe Biden as the new ambassador to the United Nations. She has been a diplomat for 35 years, mostly in Africa.

She told Romney that China is working hard to counter U.S. and democratic influence in Africa, but it isn’t always working — and America has an opportunity to block it.

“Africans still prefer, if at all possible, to work with the United States,” she said. “And we need to take advantage of that sentiment and be more proactive in our engagements on the African continent.”

Thomas-Greenfield said that in her travels in Africa, she has found discontent that China often brings in Chinese nationals to perform work on projects that it funds and not hire Africans; they have a reputation for substandard work; and rank-and-file Africans are uncomfortable with the growing presence of China and debt to it and its increasing control.

“When they have a choice, they choose us,” she said. “Unfortunately, they don’t always have a choice about where they go. So, they’re in deep debt to the Chinese.”

Thomas-Greenfield added that if confirmed, she will “work very aggressively on engaging with my colleagues across the African continent and trying to address some of the issues that they are facing in dealing with the Chinese, but also pushing a more proactive engagement by the United States.”

Romney applauded that.

“We have a challenge in that China is making an investment not to get a return on investment financially, but to get a return ... geopolitically, militarily,” he said. “They therefore have a very different calculation than we do.”

Romney also later tweeted, “Part of China’s strategy is to invest in countries — and in regions like Africa — not for economic benefit, but for increased geopolitical control. The U.S. must proactively invest in these countries so they don’t have to make the difficult decision to partner with the Chinese.”

He said in the hearing that China is not only making such moves in Africa, but also Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. “This is an issue which is worldwide in scope.”

Meanwhile, Thomas-Greenfield faced criticism in the committee for a speech she gave in 2019 to the Chinese Communist Party-funded Confucius Institute at Savannah State University — which she said she did as a favor to a university that she has supported for years.

“I truly regret having accepted that invitation and having my name associated with the Confucius Institute,” she testified, and added she will take an aggressive stance against China if confirmed.