The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) decades of infiltration in Africa paid off on March 12 when it won support from Russia and African countries, such as Egypt and South Sudan, for its condemnation of Australia’s “human rights violations” in a statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Since the CCP came to power, its military academy has trained six presidents, eight defense ministers, more than 100 commanders, and a large number of military personnel for Africa.
To date, five presidents and former presidents of African countries have graduated from the CCP’s Nanjing Army Command College. They are Samuel Nujoma, the founding president of Namibia; Jakaya Kikwete, the fourth president of Tanzania; Laurent Kabila, the third president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); Isaias Afwerki, the first and current president of Eritrea; and Joao Vieira, the former president of Guinea-Bissau.
In addition, former DRC President Joseph Kabila (also known as Kabila Jr.), the eldest son of former President Laurent Kabila, once studied at the PLA National Defense University for six months before being called back to the country by his father due to a sudden change in the country’s situation. He succeeded to the presidency after his father’s assassination.
In addition to the presidents, the CCP has trained a large number of military personnel for African countries through its military academies such as the PLA National Defense University, Nanjing Army Command College, and Shijiazhuang Army Command College.
Free Aid in Mao Zedong’s Era
Over the past few decades, the pattern of the CCP’s military aid to Africa has changed considerably.
During the era of the CCP’s first generation leader Mao Zedong, Africa received free aid.
Mao Zedong adopted a closed-door policy with the United States and the Soviet Union in his time, and he very much needed to draw in African and other third world countries to confront the two superpowers.
In 1971, Communist China succeeded in becoming a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council with crucial support from the votes of 26 African countries. In the words of Mao Zedong, “It was the black African brothers who carried us in.”
From 1964 to 1985 under Mao’s policy of “free aid,” the CCP sent 3,418 military experts in 226 envoys to 19 African countries, including Algeria, Tanzania, Congo, Zambia, and Mali. The CCP trained 17,000 soldiers, received 3,022 military trainees, and sent farming, engineering, and medical teams to assist those countries in building industrial and infrastructure projects.
Moderate Fees in Deng Xiaoping’s Era
Faced with isolation from the international community and the risk of economic collapse, the CCP’s second-generation leader Deng Xiaoping ended Mao’s closed-door policy to improve relations between China and the United States.
In the 1980s, Deng’s military aid to Africa was adjusted to a policy of charging appropriate fees and bartering, supplemented by gratuitous aid, and gradually increased the scale of military sales.
Over the following 30 years, the CCP sold to African countries military equipment such as jets, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, escort boats, and military equipment, the most common of which were the jets, K-8 trainers, and WZ-551 armored vehicles.
African countries such as Egypt, Tanzania, and Algeria were the main buyers of Chinese weapons.
Arms Business in Jiang Zemin’s Era
The CCP’s third generation leader Jiang Zemin, who came to power by carrying through with the bloody crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests, not only understood how politically important the Third World countries were but also saw enormous opportunities in doing business with them.
In 1996, after visiting six African countries, Jiang proposed a strategy of “going out” to develop the markets of Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and other developing countries, as well as Eastern Europe and former Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries.
After that, the CCP replaced its arms aid policy with arms exports.
In 2013, Chen Hongsheng, chairman of Poly Group, the largest arms dealer in China, said in an interview with Chinese language website and magazine Talents that exporting weapons and equipment was an important part of the CCP’s diplomacy, and that the CCP needed to sell equipment to in order to buy resources in other countries.
According to Chen Hongsheng, Poly had already acquired tens of thousands of square kilometers of land with oil reserves in Africa at that time.
Poly Group’s 2013 annual social responsibility report shows that in 2013, Poly Technology’s military export contracts amounted to $5.07 billion, accounting for half of China’s total military export contracts in that year. Its military export contracts to African countries exceeded $1 billion.
High-End Arms Sale in Xi Jinping’s Era
Since Xi Jinping came to power, the CCP’s highest-end weapons have begun to appear frequently at major arms shows. Weapons such as the Xiaolong combat aircraft (also Joint Fighter-17 Thunder), different models of escort vessels, multiple rocket launchers firing large-caliber rockets, and the Rainbow and Wing Loong series of unmanned aerial vehicles, have been exported to Africa.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in Sweden, the top 25 global arms dealers traded a total of $361 billion in 2019, with the U.S. leading with a 61 percent share, and China in second place with a 16 percent share.
Major Overhaul in Africa Strategy: Setting Up Overseas Military Bases
A major reorientation of the CCP’s Africa strategy can be traced back to the summit of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in December 2015.
At the summit, Xi Jinping presented Africa with some big gifts, including proposing the three year “Ten Major Cooperation Plan,” which included a peace and security cooperation plan, and $60 billion of funding support.
In July 2017, the CCP established a military base in Djibouti, a country located in the Horn of Africa. The base covers an area of about 90 acres and can accommodate up to 10,000 troops, including weapon storage facilities, boat and helicopter maintenance facilities, as well as five commercial berths and a military dock.
Djibouti is the main artery of maritime trade between Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia, and the starting point for military operations on the African continent. As a result, the United States, France, Japan, and Italy all have military bases there, and the only permanent U.S. military facility in Africa is in Djibouti.
Although the CCP claims that its base is only a “logistical support facility,” it is seen as a major strategic move, Peter Dutton, professor of strategic studies at the Naval War College in Rhode Island, told the New York Times, because it marks the first overseas military base for the CCP.
According to a Voice of America report in 2018, Djibouti might transfer control of the Doraleh container terminal to the CCP. Thomas Waldhauser, then commander of U.S. Africa Command, said at the time that control of the port by the CCP could have serious consequences for the supply of U.S. bases in Djibouti and the ability to resupply naval vessels.
In January 2020, Djibouti rejected a London Court of International Arbitration ruling to hand back control of a container terminal to global port operator DP World, after it took over for two years and allowed a Chinese state entity to build a separate terminal for the growing African market.
Africa Important for Unified Front Pushing CCP’s Global Dominance
According to U.S.-based Chinese current affairs commentator Li Yanming, Africa is an important part of the CCP’s overseas Unified Front efforts to push the regime’s global dominance.
In an interview with The Epoch Times, Li said that more and more people are witnessing the extent of CCP’s global ambitions as it deploys its military power to Africa in addition to its economic, political, and ideological penetration on all fronts.
According to Li’s analysis, the reason why the CCP has been able to expand in Africa is because of the huge amount of money it has paid to African dignitaries, and because African dictatorships have been able to strengthen their totalitarian rule with the help of the CCP.
He explained that when Western countries offer aid to Africa, they often demand human rights, freedom of the press, and democratic values at the same time, posing greater challenges for rulers.
However, the CCP’s slogan of “no political strings attached” has seen African countries flock to it for funding.
Li added that under the backdrop of the new cold war between the CCP and the United States, international forces led by the United States are increasing their efforts to contain the CCP in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and the Korean Peninsula.
In the meantime, the CCP is deliberately publicizing its military deployment, and political and military influence in Africa to intimidate its rivals.
Li said that the CCP’s military ambitions should not be underestimated—given that the CCP is in its final death throes and is likely thinking, “Why don’t I give it a gamble, and if I die, we can all die together”—and Africa has become an important force in the new round of U.S.-China rivalry, as well as one of the battlegrounds of the new U.S.-China cold war.