How China Is Increasing Its Role In Security Affairs In West Africa

China peacekeeping in Africa
Credit: South China Morning Post

Africa-China relations have been evolving in the past few decades. From political, economic, trade, environmental, and security undertakings, China’s engagement with Africa has taken an all-round trajectory. 

According to a South China Morning Post, China is expected to take a bigger role in the peace and stability of the Sahel region of West Africa after pledging to boost funding and troop numbers for United Nations missions. China’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, Dai Bing, reportedly pledged that Beijing would continue working with the international community for long-term peace in the Sahel. 

Speaking at a UN Security Council briefing, Dai is reported by SCMP to have revealed that China would provide 300 million yuan (US$45.7 million) to the Joint Force of the Group of Five (G5) for the Sahel – a security and counterterrorism initiative covering Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger.

Dai called on the Security Council to give priority to those G5 nations and provide more stable financial support to the joint force. He also added that China supported efforts to find African solutions to African issues and a greater role for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union in regional affairs, SCMP reported.  

Beijing in January said it would provide US$7 million in equipment and aid to each of the G5 nations and as of June, China had sent 1,072 officers for UN peacekeeping operations in South Sudan. China has 426 peacekeeping troops in Mali, 226 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and a small contingent in Sudan’s war-ravaged western region of Darfur. 

But why is China interested and getting more involved in contributing to Africa’s peace and security? Lina Benabdallah, an assistant professor of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest University in North Carolina said, “there is a combination of political will to get more involved … coupled with having the capability and resources to do so,” emphasizing that, this combination puts China in an advantageous position. 

It is important to also state that China’s huge economic investment through its Belt and Road projects in Africa makes the continent too important to neglect. 

China Is Treading Cautiously

Despite China’s significant peacekeeping deployments in Africa, Richard Gowan, UN director for the International Crisis Group, said: “Beijing appears cautious about putting its military personnel in too much danger after some of its peacekeepers were killed in Mali and South Sudan in 2016… I still find it unlikely that China will deploy large numbers of troops on higher-risk counterterrorism missions in Africa in the near future.”

Gowan stated that while France and the G5 countries carried out counterterrorism operations in the Sahel, China limited itself to the lower-risk “blue helmet” peacekeeping missions, SCMP noted. 

Africa’s Security Architecture And US-China Rivalry

While Beijing seeks a bigger role in Africa’s security affairs, Washington under President Donald Trump indicated a pullback from some of its security activities in the continent. 

Former national security adviser John Bolton revealed in his memoir about his time in the Trump administration that the President did not see the need for US military personnel to be in Africa. Trump asked, “Why are we in Africa? I want out of Africa and as many other places as you can. I want our soldiers on our soil,” Bolton wrote.

America’s withdrawal from some of its security commitments in Africa, some analysts say, presents opportunities for China to expand its presence. 

However, Luke Patey, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, believes that even if there was a large reduction of US troop numbers in the future, China will not “quickly move to expand its military presence beyond its large base in Djibouti, where the US and other foreign countries also maintain bases”.

Patey said, “I think both the US and China are focused on posturing between their two militaries in Asia at the moment…China will instead first try to solve its security dilemmas by fostering closer ties with African militaries.”

As Africa is a continent prone to diverse security issues, is China’s increased and active involvement in Africa’s security affairs going to help ensure sustainable peace and security? Apart from economic interest, what other reasons make Africa such an important destination for China?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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