March 30, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9260

Chinese Media Outlet Duowei: China's Strengthening Of Sino-African Military Relations Served To Increase China's Political Weight In The International Arena

March 30, 2021
Africa, North Africa, China | Special Dispatch No. 9260

On March 16, 2021, the Chinese media outlet Duowei published an article on China-Africa relations that stressed that China's presence and influence in Africa is based not on "aggressive warfare, colonial, cultural or financial means," but mainly on Chinese infrastructure investment in Africa, military training, and mutual cooperation in the political and diplomatic areas. Emphasizing that China maintains a certain distance from sensitive African issues, and does not interfere in the internal affairs of African countries, it asserted: "This is an important reason why China-Africa relations have warmed up rapidly over the past years, and many African countries have supported China on some international issues involving the conflict between China and the West."

Below is the Duowei article:[1]


'China Has Provided Remarkable Military And Economic Assistance To The Distant African Continent'

"On March 12, 2021, at the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, China spoke on behalf of Russia, Belarus, Egypt, Venezuela, Syria, North Korea, South Sudan and many other countries to criticize Australia's serious human rights violations. Among them, Egypt and South Sudan are both African countries, reflecting the extraordinary diplomatic relations between China and these two countries. As we all know, these are not the only two African countries that have good relations with China.

"China has provided remarkable military and economic assistance to the distant African continent, and has built political and diplomatic relations with African countries from scratch, even to the point where it is said that 'our black African brothers carried us to the United Nations.' China today is different from the past, but it still attaches great importance to Africa, and has even adjusted its strategy towards Africa because China's demand from Africa remains strong.

"Compared to France, Britain, Italy and other European countries that colonized Africa for nearly a century and operated in Africa for nearly two centuries since modern times, China's initial contact with Africa began in 1949 after the Chinese Communist Party regime was established. However, China's increased presence and influence in Africa as a 'latecomer' has been a source of discontent for Western countries.

"China's presence and influence is not based on aggressive warfare, colonial, cultural or financial means as in the West, but mainly on Chinese infrastructure investment in Africa, military training, and mutual cooperation in the political and diplomatic areas. The most secretive of these is the Sino-African military relationship, but for China it is much less important in China-Africa relations than the value of cooperation in the economic and political spheres.

Building On 'Mao Zedong’s Ideal For World Revolution' To Enhance Military Ties

"Since the beginning, China's strengthening of Sino-African military relations has been only one aspect of China-Africa diplomatic relations. It has served to consolidate China's ties with African governments and to increase China's political weight in the international arena, particularly in the UN Security Council. Almost all known Sino-African military contacts have been conducted on the basis of bilateral relations.

"China's military diplomacy with Africa was initially designed to satisfy Mao Zedong's ideal of 'world revolution' to resist Western colonial rule, to fight for African national independence, and to secure a favorable international environment for China. Of course, China's support for Africa, including military support, was to the liking of Africa and was a contributing factor to its fight for national independence.

"China's military cooperation with Africa did not stop after African countries gained their independence, but rather gradually transformed into normal inter-state military exchanges. Of course, the fact that China's National Defense University and Shijiazhuang Army Command College are training young military personnel for Africa shows that the warmth of Sino-African military relations is still extraordinary.

For Africa, China's defense strength is hard to beat, and there is a clear generational gap between the two sides. China can provide advanced technology and equipment, and systematic experience to help build a comprehensive military system.

"For China, participation in peacekeeping missions, military exchanges, training and joint study in Africa also provides an opportunity for the PLA, which has not been in a combat for a long time, to practice overseas and keep up with the latest developments in modern frontline warfare. This military partnership, which is a matter of national security, also constitutes a strong support for China-Africa international diplomatic relations.

Xi Jinping Changed Beijing's Africa Strategy 'Primarily To Meet China's Development Interests'

"The rapidly rising China and the young African continent are 'emerging powers' in the Western-dominated international order. But there is still a big gap between the two sides, and more room for cooperation.

"In Mao's era, when China's overall power was weak, its relations with Africa were primarily for diplomatic purposes and security needs, to gain recognition of the new regime and to build a favorable international environment during the U.S.-Soviet Cold War. In the current era of Chinese leader Xi Jinping's administration, the strategy toward Africa has changed significantly, with security needs giving way to development needs, and relations with Africa being developed primarily to meet China's development interests. This is mainly reflected in China's huge demand for economic development on the African continent.

"Africa is vast, rich in natural resources, the second largest continent in area after Asia, and the second largest in population after Asia. Africa has a population of more than 1.2 billion as of 2016, and is the fastest growing continent in terms of population among all continents. This also means a huge young workforce and considerable market prospects. In contrast, China's aging population, labor shortage, market saturation, and the need to transform and upgrade industries complement the demand of the African continent. The young African continent is also seen as a potential point for China's economic growth.

"However, as the Belt and Road Initiative moves forward, the deeper China penetrates into the resource-rich African continent, the more it will encounter various security issues. As China's interests in Africa continue to expand and deepen, China is facing increasing security pressure in Africa.

"Conflicts within African countries and complicated diplomatic relations among them are posing a growing impact on China's expanding interests in Africa. If China continues to pursue its original policy toward Africa, its interests in Africa will face increasing security risks.

"China's strategy towards Africa has changed significantly since start of the 21st century. China joined the UN's first-tier peacekeeping standby arrangement mechanism in 2002, and by 2017 China had completed the formation and registration of an 8,000 peacekeeping standby force with the UN. Eighteen of the 25 UN peacekeeping operations China participated in were deployed in Africa, and six of the seven ongoing peacekeeping operations are in Africa.

China's Military Relations With Africa Have Generally Been Cautious And Gradual

"China's top leader Xi Jinping announced at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit in December 2015 that he would support the building and operation of African standing armies and rapid response forces, and strengthen the capacity of African countries in defense, counter-terrorism, anti-riots, customs supervision, and immigration control. At the 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit, Xi also said that China would promote 50 security assistance projects in areas such as the Belt and Road Initiative, social security, UN peacekeeping, anti-piracy and counter-terrorism.

"Also in 2017, China inaugurated its first overseas military base in Djibouti, located at a strategic point in the Gulf of Aden.

"The results of China's long-standing military relations with Africa can be observed at the first China-Africa Peace and Security Forum hosted by the Chinese Ministry of Defense in Beijing in July 2019. Nearly 100 senior representatives from 50 African countries and African Union defense departments, including 15 defense ministers and chiefs of general staff of the military, participated.

"Many such actions imply that Chinese policymakers have expressed a growing interest in peace and security in Africa and a realization that China, like the European Union and the United States, needs to develop a more proactive strategy toward Africa based on the changing internal and external situations. China's understanding of security is rapidly shifting toward a more pragmatic, comprehensive and accommodating stance toward the outside world.

"But like the country's diplomatic character, China's military relations with Africa have generally been cautious and gradual, unlike Western diplomacy with Africa which still has a distinctly suzerain mentality. China maintains a certain distance from sensitive African issues, and has not interfered in the internal affairs of African countries. It is only increasingly playing an assisting role in policing, counterterrorism, anti-piracy and other consensual agendas. This is an important reason why China-Africa relations have warmed up rapidly over the past years and many African countries have supported China on some international issues involving the conflict between China and the West."


[1], March 16, 2021. The article was written by Qing Ping.

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