Clinton, asked in a television interview in Zambia on Saturday about China's rising influence on the continent, said Africans should be wary of friends who only deal with elites.
"We don't want to see a new colonialism in Africa," Clinton said in a television interview in Lusaka, the first stop on a five-day Africa tour.
"When people come to Africa to make investments, we want them to do well but also want them to do good," she said. "We don't want them to undermine good governance in Africa."
China pumped almost $10 billion in investment into Africa in 2009 and trade has taken off as Beijing buys oil and other raw materials to fuel its booming economy.
Clinton, appearing on the "Africa 360" program, called for long term "sustainable" investment that would benefit Africa.
"We saw that during colonial times it is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave," she said.
Clinton pointed to U.S. efforts to improve political and economic governance in countries like Zambia as an example of a different approach.
"The United States is investing in the people of Zambia, not just the elites, and we are investing for the long run."
African states, she said, could learn much from Asia on how governments can help support economic growth but said she did not see Beijing as a political role model.
"We are beginning to see a lot of problems" in China that will intensify over the next 10 years, she said, pointing to friction over Chinese efforts to control the Internet as one example. "There are more lessons to learn from the United States and democracies," Clinton said.
Her trip, which also takes her to Tanzania and Ethiopia, is meant to highlight the Obama administration's drive to help African countries meet challenges ranging from HIV/AIDS to food security and speed up often impressive economic growth.