China’s Unusual Deals Working to Grow African Arms Presence
In July 2008, “Africa: The Next Defense Market Opportunity?” looked at projected trends, and discussed the reasons behind China’s resurgent status as an arms vendor to those states. UPI Asia’s recent “China expanding African arms sales” offers additional details.
In 2008, the point was underlined by sales like the deal with Zimbabwe for 12 K-8/JL-8 jet trainers and light attack aircraft, but a number of deals are reportedly pending with various countries. These reportedly include everything from K-8 Karakorum jets and FC-1/JF-17 fighters, to WMZ-551 wheeled APCs, artillery, and of course the usual set of small arms and ammunition deals. One of the challenges that the July 2008 Forecast International report had discussed is the region’s economic weakness, but UPI Asia notes that China has a solution. Zambia has used its copper resources to pay China in a number of military deals, Kenya has been negotiating with China to trade fishing rights for arms, and similar deals are under discussion elsewhere.
While China’s economy has cooled as a result of the global recession, long-term, secure access to the resources needed to supply its growing economy is one of the regime’s top strategic priorities. Africa is poor by policy, but the continent has rich resources of oil and key industrial metals. This Chinese arms thrust is one component of a unified strategy that bundles weapon sales and economic ties. Other building blocks include soft-power approaches, and a key component block was added recently with the launch of a PLAN hospital ship. Few countries own dedicated hospital vessels, which can serve in quasi-diplomatic goodwill roles, or function in their traditional role as high-capacity medical support for amphibious assaults.
A combination of arms sales, naval activities, and economic ties is promising, but it will also require other forms of local relationship-building and military presence, in order to give China the full range of tools for influencing African regimes. Oddly, none of these sales, deal structures, or strategic considerations were even mentioned in a recent SIPRI(Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) analysis of China’s stepped-up deployment of peacekeeping troops. Troops whose chosen missions appear to have a strong focus on African operations.