West jittery as China hosts Africa military chiefs

Wednesday July 04 2018

A Chinese worker (left) carries out a feasibility study on a project in Africa financed by Beijing. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Army chiefs from 50 African countries are in the Chinese capital Beijing for a three-week security forum.

The China-Africa Defence and Security Forum that started on June 26, runs till July 12 and is part of the preparations for the launch of a strategic security and military cooperation between Beijing and Africa.

The delegates, the forum details indicate, are discussing a major military roadmap aimed at protecting Chinese interests in the continent as well as improving African's response to crisis situations.

Opening the discussions, the Chief of the Office for International Military Cooperation at the Central Military Commission, Major General Hu Changming, highlighted the need for understanding and cooperation on security matters between Africa and China.

The continental military cooperation plan is expected to be approved at the coming China-Africa Summit scheduled for September in Beijing.

The Chinese military cooperation with Africa at this particular time, is being monitored keenly by both Washington and Brussels.


Libya civil war

China's ever increasing investment in Africa need enhanced security protection. China has been relying on African partners for its business protection in moments of most crisis.

In 2011 during the Libya civil war, China was forced to send its commando and military vessel to rescue some 36,000 Chinese citizens working in the country.

According to the China-Africa Research Initiative in 2016, there were more than 224,400 Chinese workers in Africa.

China is involved in more than 3,000 infrastructure projects in Africa according to the Brookings Institute, a US-based research organisation.

The Chinese Africa trade volume totalled $220 billion in 2017.

The Asian giant has in the recent past also used the participation in United Nations peace keeping mission to boost its security role in Africa. China has 2,400 soldiers under the UN in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali. Its navy also deployed in the Red Sea state of Djibouti.

Port networks

China-built roads, railways and port networks across Africa connect the major global sea routes. Some of the routes traverse highly militarised global waters such as the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, which is a crucial route to connect Chinese trade between Asia and Europe.

Intelligence sharing, joint military training and joint operation between China and African partners is expected to be formally announced soon.

The Chinese forays have seen some African countries which are close allies of the Western world, engage in a delicate balancing act.

Does the West worry about the Chinese expansion in Africa?

The US in particular has found it hard to ignore the Chinese role in Africa. However, analysts hold, Chinese was most unlikely to mess with US's key interest, security.

China opened its first oversea military base in Djibouti last year, worth $590 million.

The consequences

In March 2018, top US military commander overseeing troops in Africa, Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, said that if China placed restrictions on the port's use, it could affect resupplying the American base in Djibouti and the ability of Navy ships to refuel there.

"If the Chinese took over that port, then the consequences could be significant," he said during the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee hearing.

US military has accused China of spying at Port Djibouti, claims China has denied.