The recent announcement that China is seeking to establishing an Atlantic naval base from Northern Africa has gotten the attention of military planners. This development is predicated on massive spending and, frankly, influence peddling (better known as diplomacy) all throughout the continent of Africa. Reportedly, China is dedicating $60 billion for various development projects that range from road building, and construction and other infrastructure projects.
China appears to be very “strategic” in their choice of countries and projects. For example, they paid for and built the African Union headquarters based in Ethiopia. Reportedly, there are some 2,000 troops stationed at a port in Djibouti which is seen as the beginnings of a naval facility for China. Now, they are working towards a similar, and more ambitious, plan for Western Africa. Some suggest areas in the Gulf of Guinea are possibilities. However, America can mount responses that could cause the Chinese to consider other options.
A point not considered is how their Africa strategy would be coordinated with development plans in other regions. That China is slowly closing a noose around America should be obvious to military planners.
Moreover, the role of their military strategy reinforces the other components of their Africa strategy which include building political relations, providing aid and assistance that cements those relations, access to natural resources China needs as well as cultural exchange that supports future commercial projects.
America’s engagement in Africa has been around for a much longer time. No surprise it has not all gone smoothly. Working with agencies of the United Nations might have provided some PR for America, but there have been enough scandals to taint some of these efforts. How long before China runs into the same problems?
That said, China seems to have a number of unique problems. the highly centralized nature of the CCP, plus the lack of international NGOs from China hurt future planning. Associated with the lack of private development organizations is the lack of private investment on behalf of China.
Referring back to a document from Communist Chinese planners in 2006, it can be said they keep using the words “friendship” and “peace” a little too much. They seem to think these words have some kind of hypnotic power on the reader. Well, they do not. So, they should not be surprised that their promises of aid and mutual development have been met with skepticism by the public in difference African countries. There is, instead, an expectation, that there will be plenty of jobs from these projects for citizens in those countries, rather than importing labor from either China or other countries.
Maybe something is lost in the translation into English, but there is a sense of awkwardness that comes from trying to sell your ideas. Consider this passage:
“The one China principle is the political foundation for the establishment and development of China’s relations with African countries and regional organizations. The Chinese Government appreciates the fact that the overwhelming majority of African countries abide by the one China principle, refuse to have official relations and contacts with Taiwan and support China’s great cause of reunification. China stands ready to establish and develop state-to-state relations with countries that have not yet established diplomatic ties with China on the basis of the one China principle.”
It is the misuse of the phrase “the one China principle” that seems out of place and suggests their planners are really struggling with a clear articulation of the idea.
A comprehensive view of the Africa strategy suggests the Chinese have covered all their bases. However, there are facets that need to be considered more closely. For example, a number of earlier efforts by China have not gone well. A common complaint is the efforts to make loans from China with many strings attached which do no work out well for the recipient country. Worse, these efforts have sometimes exacerbated negative economic conditions by supporting corruption. If China is still doing that, they could run into a lot of trouble in the future.