Sun. November 23, 2014 Get Published  Get Alerts
HOME  |LOGIN
ABOUT | CONTACT US | SUPPORT US
China’s Security Policy in Africa and the Western Indian Ocean

Comments(0)
By David H. Shinn


Africa and the western Indian Ocean have security implications for China only to the extent that Chinese nationals and investments in the region are threatened or there are interruptions in the flow from Africa of critical raw materials that support China’s economy. As a result, China puts a premium on strengthening the stability of African countries, irrespective of their political ideology, especially those that are major exporters of raw materials or have a significant Chinese presence.

China’s security-related interests in Africa began in the late 1950s with military assistance and training for a variety of African liberation groups fighting for independence from colonial rule. During the 1960s, China even supported a small number of African rebel groups that opposed independent African governments. This early policy was part of China’s doctrine of revolutionary warfare and support globally for wars of national liberation.

As African countries under colonial rule obtained independence and China ended in the 1970s its support for rebel groups opposing independent African governments, it refocused Chinese security strategy in Africa. China became an early although modest supplier of military equipment, especially small arms and light weapons, to African governments. From the 1960s to the 1990s, China’s share of conventional arms deliveries to Africa by dollar value varied between 3 and 5 percent of the global total. Since the late 1990s, as China produced higher quality and a wider selection of conventional military equipment, it increased its transfers to Sub-Saharan Africa to about 15 percent. These percentages exclude small arms and light weapons, which are difficult to track but for which China is a major supplier.

Small arms and light weapons do not contribute significantly to the dollar value of Chinese arms transfers, but those that have made their way into African conflicts such as Darfur, Somalia, Liberia, Chad and the eastern Congo have, together with weapons from other countries, contributed to the loss of life. It is China’s policy to transfer weapons only to governments and there is no evidence in recent years that China has provided them directly to rebel groups. In some cases, African governments have transferred them to rebel organizations or they are purchased on the international arms market. A UN Panel of Experts concluded, for example, that Sudan supplied the allied Janjaweed rebel organization with Chinese arms for use in Darfur even after a United Nations’ embargo had taken effect.

From the beginning, China’s military strategy has relied on a steady stream of exchange visits with African military counterparts. Members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Navy (PLAN) are constantly visiting African countries and African military leaders are frequent guests of the PLA and PLAN. This is a relatively low cost policy with a potentially high return. Some twenty-eight African countries have defense attachés assigned to their embassies in Beijing. China has some sixteen defense attaché offices in Africa accredited to about thirty countries, a surprisingly low number in view of China’s growing security interests.

UN peacekeeping operations in Africa have increasingly become a significant component of China’s policy. It deployed twenty military observers in 1989 to a UN election monitoring operation in Namibia, its first military deployment with the UN. This was followed by a steady increase of support for UN peacekeeping operations. China now has about 1,500 non-combatant troops and police assigned to six of the seven UN missions in Africa, more than any other permanent member of the Security Council. China sends primarily engineers, transport specialists and medical units. China sees this contribution as a way to increase its standing in the world, test its military ability, learn more about African security, and put it in a position to help protect Chinese interests in Africa. Support for UN peacekeeping is now central to China’s military strategy in Africa. By all accounts, including those from American military personnel, China’s peacekeepers have performed well. China has also increased its financial support for UN peacekeeping operations and made modest contributions to operations such as Somalia undertaken by the African Union and sub-regional African organizations.

China and Western countries have, however, a different understanding of the ultimate goal of UN peacekeeping operations. While both camps seek a return to political stability in conflict countries, Western governments emphasize an outcome that results in a liberal democratic government while China’s primary goal is economic development that includes poverty reduction, increased employment and infrastructure creation. The establishment of a liberal democratic regime is low on its priority list.

As China increased its engagement with and its physical presence in Africa, it has become subject to more security challenges. The Nigerian Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) warned China to stay out of the region. MEND or similar organizations kidnapped more than twenty Chinese working in the area. Chinese personnel have been kidnapped and killed in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan region by forces that oppose Sudan’s government. Nine Chinese oil workers died in an attack on their base in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia by the Ogaden National Liberation Front. China’s 2009 crackdown on the Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of western China resulted in threats against Chinese workers, who number as many as 50,000, in Algeria by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The collapse of the regime in Libya required the evacuation of 35,000 Chinese workers from that country in 2011. These and other incidents have caused China to reassess the level of risk it is willing to take and its ability to protect its nationals in Africa.

The outbreak of Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden and subsequently throughout the western Indian Ocean has impacted Chinese-owned vessels and crews. In its first ever out of region tactical deployment, the PLAN sent at the end of 2008 two frigates and a supply ship to the Gulf of Aden to help the international anti-piracy effort. China continues to maintain this naval presence in the region. In addition to protecting Chinese shipping interests, the naval force is intended to help ensure the safe transit of oil and minerals on other nations’ flagged vessels from Africa and the Middle East to Chinese ports. This naval presence has resulted in more frequent PLAN visits to African and Indian Ocean ports and raised the question whether China may seek more permanent naval supply arrangements in the region.

There is significant evidence that China is working to develop a carrier force. Its first carrier began sea trials in 2011 but will not be operational until 2013. In 2008, fifty students began training as naval pilots capable of operating fixed-wing aircraft from an aircraft carrier. The U.S. Department of Defense believes the PLAN is considering building multiple carriers by 2020. While the western Indian Ocean will not be the highest operational priority for a Chinese carrier task force, it will certainly be a strong candidate. Both the U.S. and Indian navies are following this issue closely. A captain in the Indian Navy wrote in 2010 that deployment of PLAN ships in the Gulf of Aden is a manifestation of the Chinese desire to shed its image as a “brown water” navy and signal to the world its aspiration to become a blue water navy. Some Indian analysts worry that China’s goal is the “strategic encirclement” of India.

China’s 2010 white paper on national defense states that it “will never seek hegemony, nor will it adopt the approach of military expansion now or in the future, no matter how its economy develops.” China has no bases in Africa and insists that it has no intention to establish any, and it has not entered into any formal military alliance with an African or western Indian Ocean country. On the other hand, it is in discussion with Kenya on building a major port facility north of Mombasa, has interests in two container facilities in Port Said, Egypt, and is considering the Seychelles as a resupply port for PLAN vessels taking part in the anti-piracy operation. Several senior retired PLAN officers have recently commented publicly on the need to obtain a permanent resupply base in the region to support Chinese ships.

China has been careful so far to limit its military presence in Africa and the western Indian Ocean, but the fact that it is today the world’s second largest economy and will soon take over first place changes the equation. China certainly does not want to rely on the U.S. Navy to protect the sea lanes that transport so much of its imported oil and minerals from Africa and the Middle East. These concerns have already changed China’s security strategy and, moving forward, will almost certainly increase its interest in expanding its military reach and ties with countries in Africa and the western Indian Ocean.


David H. Shinn is Adjunct Professor at George Washington University and former Ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso

Comments in Chronological order (0 total comments)

Report Abuse
Quick Links Twitter Face Book Get Alerts Contact Us Enter Ia-Forum Student Award Competition
International Affairs
Forum - (2014 Issue 1)

Available Now
ANNOUNCEMENTS
THE WORLD'S DISCUSSING...
11/21/2014: Development blog: Trade Growth Is Slowing; Is Protectionism to Blame? More
11/21/2014: Obama’s Act Gives Hope to Four Million Immigrants, but More is Needed More
11/21/2014: Cuba’s Foreign Investment Invitation: Insights into Internal Struggles More
11/21/2014: How Places Can Make the Executive Actions on Immigration Work More
11/21/2014: Republican Division on an Immigration Response Highlights a GOP Challenge More
11/21/2014: Currency Wars, the Ruble and Keynes More
11/21/2014: Bad Laws Lead to Bad Executive Orders More
11/21/2014: CGD Publication: To Charge or Not to Charge: Evidence from a Health Products Experiment in Uganda - Working Paper 387 More
11/20/2014: Obama’s Immigration Order Isn’t a Power Grab More
11/20/2014: Why a Temporary Immigration Solution is Still Problematic for STEM Workers More
11/20/2014: Development blog: Giddy Optimism on 2015 More
11/20/2014: Brookings Experts on Immigration Reform and Executive Action More
11/20/2014: Japan in Recession: Questions to Ask on the Future of Abenomics More
11/20/2014: Japan in Recession: Questions to Ask on the Future of Abenomics More
11/20/2014: Development blog: Payment by Results: One Size Doesn't Fit All More
11/20/2014: A Refugee and Parole Program for Central American Minors More
11/20/2014: A Refugee and Parole Program for Central American Minors More
11/20/2014: What the Top Eight Freight Corridors Tell Us About Trade More
11/20/2014: Even Piecemeal Immigration Reform Could Boost the U.S. Economy More
11/20/2014: Four Realities about Executive Actions; Moving Beyond the Rhetoric of Immigration Reform More
11/20/2014: Hutchins Roundup: Unemployment Insurance, Emerging Markets, and More More
11/20/2014: Hutchins Roundup: Unemployment Insurance, Emerging Markets, and More More
11/20/2014: America's Leadership Crisis--and Its Economic Implications More
11/20/2014: An Awkward Celebration in the Heart of Europe More
11/20/2014: What the Inequality Warriors Really Want More
11/20/2014: On Obama and Immigration More
11/20/2014: Obama’s Immigration Executive Order is Mixed Bag for Tech Sector More
11/20/2014: CGD Event: Predicting Partnerships: Which Countries Will the Millennium Challenge Corporation Select This Year? More
11/19/2014: Global Health blog: After Ebola: Five Lessons for Outbreak Response More
11/19/2014: Development blog: The Baker’s Dozen: A 748-Year-Old Solution for Climate Offsets More
11/19/2014: Development blog: How to Publish Your Government Contracts More
11/19/2014: Development blog: Jurisdictional Forest Offsets: California Dreamin’? More
11/19/2014: Understanding the Ebola Outbreak and How to Respond in the Future More
11/19/2014: Havel's Idealistic Governance, Version 2.0 More
11/19/2014: Why Congress Should Legalize Pot More
11/19/2014: DACA Offers Lessons for Executive Action on Immigration More
11/19/2014: Get the Fiscal House in Order More
11/19/2014: The 2014 Tax Revolt More
11/19/2014: CGD Publication: The $138.5 Billion Question: When Does Foreign Aid Work (and When Doesn’t It)? More
11/19/2014: CGD Publication: The California REDD+ Experience: The Ongoing Political History of California’s Initiative to Include Jurisdictional REDD+ Offsets within Its Cap-and-Trade System - Working Paper 386 More
11/19/2014: Congressional Testimony: The Future of Democracy in Hong Kong More
11/18/2014: Why Ending FEMA Will Improve Disaster Response More
11/18/2014: Letter to the Editor: Not One Rule for Thee, But Another for Me More
11/18/2014: Making Climate Policy from a Debate Driven by Extremes More
11/18/2014: Taiwan’s Municipal Elections: Local Races with National Implications More
11/18/2014: The Federal Emergency Management Agency: Floods, Failures, and Federalism More
11/17/2014: Development blog: 10 Million Stateless and Growing: How Donors Can Help More
11/17/2014: Development blog: Credit Where Credit’s Due: Brisbane Edition More
11/17/2014: Development blog: Will More Red States Constrain More REDD+ Finance? More
11/17/2014: Ukrainian Crisis Must Not Become a Frozen Conflict More
More...
About | Contact Us | Support Us | Terms and Conditions

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2002 - 2014