China is expanding its military footprint in Africa

Posted on Jun 6 2018 - 9:57am by Editor

People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers deployed for United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions give a demonstration of their engineering and combat skills at a military base in Qinyang, Henan province, China, 15 September 2007. China will send a 315-member engineering unit of peacekeeping soldiers to the Darfur region of Sudan. The unit will start to be dispatched in the beginning of October 2007 with the primary task of building and maintaining roads, helipads, bridges and barracks. There are currently 1,648 Chinese officers and soldiers serving in 10 UN missions and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO).

One way China has fortified its investments in Africa is by gradually taking an active role at the United Nations, says Theodor Neethling, who heads the department of political studies at the University of Free State in South Africa. Over the last decade, China has ramped up its role in peacekeeping missions: Of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, it is the biggest contributor of peacekeepers, and it is among the world’s top 12 largest contributors of the troops. China has contributed troops to the UN missions in South Sudan, where it has oil interests, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which supplies it with cobalt and copper, and Mali.

Providing logistical and defense support to African countries, Neethling says, is part of China’s plan of “projecting itself as the leader of the developing world and a nation that finds itself in solidarity with developing nations.” African countries can barely finance their own security agenda, and many nations face deficits when it comes to countering terrorism, piracy, and natural disasters. At a time when the US and European countries are adopting isolationist policies, Beijing is making power moves abroad, for example by opening up its first overseas military base in Djibouti.

This is causing some consternation for the United States. In Djibouti, where both nations operate bases, American generals are worried China might arm-twist Djibouti into kicking US forces out. Tensions, evocative of what’s happening in the South China Sea, are also escalating, with Americans recently accusing China of using military-grade lasers to distract its fighter pilots.

As China expands its global military might in Africa, some have worried that this might herald colonial ambitions or a new form of US-style military hegemony. Neethling argues that this shouldn’t be a concern: “China is certainly acutely aware of the pitfalls associated with the politics of interventionism

and neo-colonialism,” he says, “especially in the developing worl


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