China’s presence in Africa has been steadily growing and since establishing their first overseas military base in Djibouti, they are looking to expand their foreign military presence all across the continent.
The claim is to protect their national assets, where the Chinese government has dumped billions in economic assistance. But now, they’re looking to expand their influence in the military field as well, challenging the US at every turn.
In Djibouti, where Chinese companies have constructed strategic ports and Africa’s first electric transnational railway, Beijing last year formally launched its first overseas military base, which also operates as a logistics and intelligence facility. Many experts now anticipate more Chinese bases in the years to come, with Namibia rumored as a potential location.
Meanwhile in Tanzania, where the state-run conglomerate China Merchants Holdings International is hoping to invest in the Bagamoyo mega port, China built a complex designed to train local armed forces earlier this year. And, at the first-ever China-Africa Defense and Security Forum in Beijing on Tuesday, the communist state announced it will provide African countries with “comprehensive support” on matters such as piracy and counter-terrorism. That includes providing technologies, equipment, personnel and strategic advice, local media reported.
All that comes amid expectations for the U.S. to reduce troops in Africa under President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy, which is set to boost Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government as the dominant foreign power on the continent.
“In recent years, Chinese arms sales to Africa have surpassed the United States,” said Luke Patey, senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies: “In particular, Chinese small arms and light weapons have spread rapidly since China is less inhibited by selling arms to countries in the midst of conflict than Western providers.” That goes hand in hand with Beijing’s expanding military cooperation, he continued.
The world’s second-largest economy has long described Sino-Africa cooperation as a “win-win” arrangement — one that provides China with natural resources and African economies with badly-needed infrastructure. But while the flood of Chinese resources may be welcomed by the region’s cash-strapped governments, the fear is that increased capital could translate into political leverage.
In fact, many speculate that it was Beijing’s concerns over its investments that resulted in the 2017 coup that ousted Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe — a charge that Xi’s administration has denied.
The Chinese will no doubt look to expand their base in Djibouti as well as start exploring other avenues in the very near future. As the events in Zimbabwe showed, the influence of China and their willingness to project their force is a new, and unsettling threat to the West in the region.
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