China welcomed military chiefs from many African countries to Beijing over the weekend to discuss peacekeeping missions and the Asian giant’s efforts to expand its armed forces footprint on the continent during an ongoing week-long summit that began Sunday.
Deutsche Welle (DW) reports:
The Chinese government now intends to expand its military cooperation with the continent. To this end, China’s Defense Ministry has invited African army chiefs to a summit in Beijing, running from July 14 to 20. Last year, the Chinese capital hosted a meeting of high-ranking military attaches and army representatives from virtually all African countries. If the available press bulletins are anything to go by, there is one issue that will clearly dominate the agenda this week: peace.
Africa is an essential component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which seeks to revive the ancient Silk Road by linking Beijing to Europe, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere through a massive network of land and sea routes as well as technological infrastructure.
The U.S. military has warned that China is using BRI as a tool to “support and mask” its military objectives across the world to “displace” its rival the United States, promote its authoritarian communist ideology, and attempt to position itself as an alternative to the rules-based international liberal order led by the U.S.
After repeatedly insisting that BRI is purely peaceful since launching the initiative in 2013, China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe conceded on July 8 that the project aims to support Beijing’s military ambitions, substantiating America’s assertions that the Asian giant is using the effort to expand the goals of its armed forces, the state-run Xinhua news agency noted.
Citing July 8 comments from Chinese Defense Minister Wei, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported:
The Chinese military stands ready to deepen mutual trust and consolidate friendship with the militaries of the Caribbean countries and Pacific island countries, Wei said, adding that cooperation will be promoted in such areas as anti-terrorism, peacekeeping, and disaster relief to strengthen exchanges and cooperation under the framework of the BRI.
Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the chief of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), noted that same month that the United States is “carefully monitoring Chinese encroachment and emergent military presence” in Djibouti, home to Beijing’s first overseas naval base.
Lina Benabdallah, a political analyst who studies China’s Africa policies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, indicated to DW, “China is predominantly interested in consolidating its presence in Africa … through intensified collaboration with the African Union, more police and military training exercises and more peacekeeping troops.”
A few years after announcing the BRI projects, China established its first overseas naval base in Djibouti in 2017, keeping in mind the small nation’s strategically important location in the Horn of Africa with access to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The small African country also houses military installations of various other countries, including the United States.
Furthermore, an estimated 2,000 Chinese service members are currently involved in the United Nations peacekeeping mission in various African countries, including South Sudan and Mali, DW pointed out.
Some independent experts and the American military have acknowledged that China’s BRI may require Beijing to use direct military force to protect its investments, including the thousands of Chinese workers who have traveled into Africa to work on the projects.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has also warned that China is using the BRI as a vehicle for “predatory lending” practices to undermine the sovereignty of borrowing nations.
Some African countries have collateralized some of the BRI-linked loans with natural resources and strategic assets that could allow Beijing to seize territory from the borrowing countries if they default on their loans, granting Beijing a foothold inside Africa.
Last year, U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) — charged with American military activity in most of Latin America and the Caribbean — warned that China’s BRI, also known as the One Belt, One Road (OBOR), may create security vulnerabilities for the United States by allowing Beijing to expand its influence across the world.
In March, Gen. Joseph Votel, then-chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), added, “For China, economic power is the primary tool, and while many ‘One Belt – One Road’ projects do not pose direct threats to U.S. national interests, burgeoning Chinese economic power could support and mask longer-term military and political objectives.”
CENTCOM is responsible for American military activity in and around the Middle East, including Afghanistan.
Although Russia remains the top weapons and military equipment supplier for African armies, China ranks second, Cobus van Staden of the South African Institute of International Affairs told DW.
When unveiling Trump’s Africa strategy in December 2018, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, asserted that Russia and China’s activities in Africa “interfere with U.S. military operations; and pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests.”