And this is only the first step, and the next two are already known — Norinco’s permanent missions in Mali and Côte d’Ivoire are next in line. It is clear that opening a permanent mission in Dakar means not only sales, maintenance and supplies of new types of weapons, but also the ability to respond quickly to political changes in the countries. There are so many military coups, and weapons may be needed quickly and in large quantities.
«It’s interesting that China became a major arms exporter to the continent only a decade ago, but what an amazing leap,» says Luke Patey, a China specialist at the Danish Institute for International Studies, «Beijing has become the third arms supplier to the continent as a whole and the second in Sub-Saharan Africa.»
And this is a traditional zone of French influence, and France, as we know, has been sent home from almost everywhere in the last few years. So far, however, it remains the main arms exporter in Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, but if the Chinese are already there, it means that this primacy will not last long.
Russia has traditionally held serious positions in the West African arms market. But now Russia has no time for arms exports.
«There is nothing surprising in the fact that China will also take positions on the market,» said Danilo delle Fave, an analyst at the International Center for Security Studies in Verona. — «China is now helping Russia with the only expectation that the West will not become stronger due to the possible weakening of Russia, but Beijing will not hesitate for a minute if it suddenly gets an opportunity to take over Russian market segments.»
«I would not rush to such conclusions,» says Luke Patey. — «China can certainly take the market away from Russia, but look, in 2022, the Russians were even able to increase their arms supplies to Africa, even though they were already under sanctions at that time.»
The Chinese company offers Africans the entire range of military equipment, up to the most advanced. Congo purchased a batch of drones in February this year. Chinese fighter jets have already appeared on the market, and this is a traditional Russian sales area.
There is another promising move that China is now making, opening offices in West Africa. China has always supplied arms to those countries where it has economic interests, i.e., natural resource extraction. The main arms export destinations are Sudan and Nigeria, where the Chinese military industry took its share from oil fields.
It seems that this was not enough for Beijing, and now it has decided to trade arms in exchange for influence. China has already become Africa’s main economic partner, and military cooperation is absolutely necessary. Especially since the U.S. is now trying hard to curb the Chinese offensive fervor. Trump has declared Beijing enemy №1, and Biden has chosen the strategy of creating all kinds of alliances against Russia and China.
«And for Beijing, Africa is precisely the continent where it can freely confront this story and gain new partners just by supplying arms,» says Danilo delle Fave.
The Black Continent is now indeed becoming a strategic hub, and a very important one for China in the context of its New Silk Road project. The idea of railroad or sea routes connecting China to Southeast Asia, the Persian Gulf and Europe is now being extended to African shores.
China has become Africa’s main commercial partner. There are such data: from 1995 to 2017, that is, in 22 years, their trade turnover grew from 2.5 billion dollars to 127, that is, 50 times. It has, roughly speaking, doubled every year! An impressive figure, you must agree.
But let’s return to the military sphere. In addition to making money, China needs to ensure the security of its 10,000 enterprises based in Africa. According to the Chinese military doctrine adopted in 2009, the army should be present at all global borders and guard national interests.
But the maritime part of this strategy envisions a naval presence in key locations as far away as the African continent. Therefore, back in 2017, a Chinese naval base appeared in Djibouti, in the Gulf of Aden, from where the coast of East Africa can be controlled. Now there are 250 servicemen permanently stationed there, and by 2026 there will be 10,000 of them, which means that Beijing, apparently, plans to turn this base into its outpost. And there is also a plan to create a similar base in Walvis Bay in Namibia.
Exactly one third of the weapons that Africa buys are ‘Made in China’. It is bought by 22 countries on the continent. The list with which they go to this hypermarket includes small arms, tanks, IFVs, maritime patrol aircraft, drones, missiles. It’s a full cart. In addition, China has been conducting joint maneuvers with Nigeria, Ghana and Gabon, well, before the coup, in 2018. African militaries are studying at Chinese military academies.
All this fits perfectly into the thousand-year-old Chinese «wise monkey principle», which sits in a tree and watches two tigers fight over a banana. Then comes down and picks up the banana when the tigers have already fallen exhausted. For example, China participated in the UN’s MINUSMA military operation in Mali and even sent 3,000 fighters there — the most, by the way. But the Chinese blue helmets set a condition: we will stand on those positions where we have our infrastructure or citizens.
And, of course, there are private Chinese militarized security agencies working on the African continent — it was not Wagner who invented this. They work in absolutely all spheres. And there is no doubt that their influence will grow as rapidly as Chinese interests in Africa.
With all the consequences.