Since late June, top military officials from Mali, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and dozens of other African countries have gathered to discuss defense strategies and security threats.
The meeting didn’t take place in a major African city, but thousands of kilometers away, in Beijing, China.
The occasion was the inaugural China-Africa Defense and Security Forum, a high-profile showcase of expanding military partnerships hosted by China’s Ministry of National Defense.
The forum, which concluded July 11, solidifies China’s standing as a key security partner for Africa and coincides with a raft of economic and political moves that have deepened its involvement across the continent.
Ideology, economics, politics
Paul Nantulya, a research associate at the Africa Center who focuses on China-Africa relations and security, told VOA that China’s military involvement in Africa blends ideology, economics and politics.
China’s presence on the continent dates back to the liberation struggles of the 1960s, when it supported anti-colonial and anti-apartheid movements in South Africa, Algeria, Sudan and other countries based on what Nantulya called “ideological concerns.”
When former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping came to power in the late 1970s, unprecedented reforms set the stage for China’s ascent as an economic powerhouse.
China’s new global posture influenced its engagement in Africa, Nantulya said, bringing economic and political layers to relationships that had previously been one-dimensional.
“The military engagement that China has on the continent has become much more complex than merely just an extension of its ideological concerns,” Nantulya said.
“Increasingly, we’re also beginning to see military-to-military exchanges between African countries and China, and these exchanges cover a whole range of issues, from peacekeeping to disaster response, to military building, army building, professional military education,” he added. “So, it’s a much bigger portfolio.”
African military officials at the defense forum told CGTV, a Chinese state-run broadcaster, that they have well-defined expectations of their partnerships with China.
“What we require from China, which is made very clear, is for them to provide us with the partnership, with the support, with the expertise, with the technical capability, with the capacity-building, with infrastructure, for us to be able to do the job ourselves,” said Lt. Gen. Masanneh Nyuku Kinteh of the Gambia Armed Forces.