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Does India require to realign its investments in Africa amidst growing China-Africa relations?

China is swiftly growing its military footprint world wide. However, the difference is that unlike the US these military bases are not known for drone/surgical strikes or covert naval bases operating outside the sphere of influence. This is the new brigade of the blue helmets “peacekeepers“ – Chinese on a mission  –  a mission which is clearly beyond Chapter 6 or 7 of the United Nation. Is it a deception mechanism to fuel China’s strategic “debt-book diplomacy” along the Belt and Road or there is more to it, only time will tell.

In particular lets talk of China’s growing presence in Africa

china africa
China Africa trade

There are reports that China is planning to build more naval bases on the African coast, such as in Luanda, Lagos, Walvis Bay, and Mombasa. Why is Africa its area of interest? Is it a strategic move or purely a business deal? And if we talk of recent Chinese military adventures, Djibouti (worth $590 million) definitely draws our attention. So is Djibouti – on the Horn of Africa, a logistics base or a conglomeration of military might, a show of power to make its next door neighbor “Camp Lemonnier “(the American military base) uneasy?

Or is this a surveillance-safety net put in place? To provide hard power alongside soft power (diplomatic engagements) in order to safeguard its economic interests? Or is it purely peacekeeping; the “calculated” way of exerting greater influence on international affairs. The Global Times has highlighted other benefits derived from the base, such as rent money and jobs for Djiboutians, protection for China’s plans under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), provision of food supplies to ships, and an insurance against disruption by the local population.

Speculations are many, but the dragon sure knows how to breathe fire.

Unlike the old path of expansionism followed by traditional powers UK & US who have numerous military bases worldwide, China has swiftly made its global presence felt through peacekeeping operations. This has helped it craft a more positive and constructive global image and reputation, unlike the US which is often referred to as the Satan – the devil.

China Africa Trade
China-Africa Trade

Through the Johannesburg Action Plan for 2016-18, China promised US$60 million in military assistance and support to security mechanisms such as the standby force, as well as crisis response.

Among these contributions were joint exercises, expansion of personnel training, exchanges in technology and intelligence, and strengthening cooperation on anti-piracy efforts. These new agreements outline China’s official security commitment to Africa today and demonstrate an expansion of military cooperation between the continental China.

Increasingly making inroads in the African markets as more than “two-thirds of the entire continent operate on equipment of Chinese origin. Further, China is aggressively expanding its arms export market, becoming the third largest exporter of arms with Chinese arms exports to states in Africa growing by almost 122 percent from 2007-11 to 2012-16.

China exporting arms to africa

Northern African countries are the primary destination of Chinese weapons, constituting 42 percent of Chinese exports to the continent. An additional 29 percent flows into Eastern Africa, and the remaining 29 percent are divided between other African states. According to the report by the Department of Defence, Chinese arms are less expensive than those offered by the top international arms suppliers. They are also of lower quality and reliability, but they still have advanced capabilities. Chinese arms also come with fewer political strings attached, which is attractive to those customers who may not have access to weapons from Western countries for political reasons.

In 2016, there were more than 224,400 Chinese workers in Africa.

The question remains the same. Is it trade? Is it the oil factor? Is it a military expansion? Or is it the first step towards Chinese colonization?

According to the China-Africa Research Initiative in 2016, there were more than 224,400 Chinese workers in Africa.China has 2,400 soldiers under the UN in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali. Its navy also deployed in the Red Sea state of Djibouti.

Should India be worried?

Firstly, reports reflect a concern for the country’s vulnerability to Chinese military activity in the Indian Ocean region. China’s Djibouti base is feared to form part of the pattern of Chinese naval bases along the Indian Ocean, or ‘string of pearls’, and given the hostility over the Doklam plateau, India should view China’s growing military footprint as more of a threat than a source of security.

Secondly, trade between India- Africa (US$ 52 billion) appears to be completely eclipsed by China’s ambitious plan to reach US$ 400 billion in African trade. As China moves deeper into the continent and scales up its involvement, questions arise as to whether India can remain an important partner of African nations.

Lastly, Defence diplomacy is surely worrisome. The kind of military investment – military personnel, military infrastructure, training, delegation visits, training teams, military attaches, emphasis on the know-how of internal politics-culture, language etc clearly indicate a bigger plan of action.

Viewpoint

It is clear that China’s role in Africa is evolving and China is keen to protect its growing economic interests and Chinese nationals in Africa. It is now clear that China is speedily in the process of redefining its military engagement in Africa, as China’s Ministry of National Defense has invited high-ranking military representatives from fifty (50) African countries to the China-Africa Defense and Security Forum.  (Army chiefs from 50 African countries are in the Chinese capital Beijing for a three-week from 26th  Jun  – 12 Jul).  security forum. Therefore there is a need of realignment for Indian (military- economic) investments to match Chinese initiatives in Africa.

05 July 2018/Thursday                                                                          Written by Afsana

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