To complement its increasing financial presence in Africa, China is now beginning to move into the military field. After deploying to Sudan and Mali (see below) it has now added 700 troops to a UN force in South Sudan. This time it is protecting its oil interests. Oh, and bringing peace as well, of course! And – see right at the bottom – perhaps also building an air-base in Zimbabwe.
China deploys troops to U.N. force to protect South Sudan oilfields: WSJ
(Reuters) – China has begun deploying 700 soldiers to a U.N. peacekeeping force in South Sudan to protect oil fields and Chinese workers amid a rebellion in the African country, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The newspaper quoted a spokesman for South Sudan’s president as saying on Tuesday that the airlift of a Chinese infantry battalion to the South Sudanese states of Unity and Upper Nile was expected to take several days.
China is the biggest investor in South Sudan’s oil industry.
U.N. officials have previously said it would be the first time China had contributed a battalion to a U.N. peacekeeping mission. Last year China sent a smaller “protection unit” to join a U.N. mission in Mali.
China has played an unusually active diplomatic role in South Sudan.
Beijing last month pressed South Sudan over renewed violence in the oil-rich state, demanding an immediate ceasefire and political dialogue in the country.
Under its mandate, U.N. peacekeepers are allowed to use “all necessary means” to protect civilians at oil installations, The Wall Street Journal said. If attacked, the Chinese soldiers are “combat ready and can fight back”, the South Sudan presidential spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, said.
Chinese officials have been in regular contact with Western diplomats to help African mediators push for a halt to the fighting in South Sudan. China has pushed rival factions loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar to talk.
Around five percent of China’s oil imports came from South Sudan when it was pumping at full tilt. The state firm China National Petroleum Corp has a 40 percent stake in a joint venture developing the country’s oil fields.
China’s Combat Troops in Africa
For the second time in a little over a year, China has infantry on the ground in Africa, reflecting the Chinese military’s increasingly global presence.
395 peacekeepers from the People’s Liberation Army just arrived in the Saharan nation of Mali as part of the U.N. mission to help restore order there. Specifically, Beijing has sent engineering, medical and “guard” teams to the Malian capital of Bamako, according to the Chinese defense ministry. These troops are reportedly part of the PLA’s 16th Army, a formation comprised of infantry, armor and artillery divisions.
China traditionally sends thousands of engineering, medical and other support troops on U.N. missions each year. Of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, China is the largest manpower contributor to U.N. peacekeeping missions.
However, until very recently, China did not send infantry on U.N. missions. In fact, Beijing officially insists the soldiers in Mali aren’t combat troops, perhaps in order to maintain the idea that China doesn’t send official combat troops on peacekeeping missions.
“The Chinese security force is actually a guard team that will mainly be responsible for the security of the [U.N. mission] headquarters and the living areas of peacekeeping forces,” a Chinese defense ministry spokesman is quoted by China’s state-run Xinhua news agency as saying.
Still, this latest deployment marks the second time in the last two years that China has sent infantry soldiers to Africa with the purpose of guarding peacekeeping missions. In 2011, Beijing sent infantrymen to guard PLA engineers participating in a U.N. mission in South Sudan. Despite Beijing’s claims that these troops were there solely for the purpose of guarding the engineers, the U.S. China Economic and Security Review pointed out that these guards were from an “elite” combat unit.
The mission to protect PLA engineers and medics isn’t without merit; just last week, seven UN personnel were killed when their convoy was attacked in Sudan. And the operation reflects China’s growing interest in Africa. Chinese business leaders have been all over the continent for the last decade, spending billions of dollars on projects and prompting some to worry that Beijing was going to beat the U.S. in the African influence game (an assertion U.S. President Barack Obama dismisses). All of this has prompted Chinese military deployments aimed at protecting Chinese workers abroad.
The Chinese navy has been conducting anti-piracy operations in the Arabian Sea for years. And in early 2011, China sent military transport planes and even a guided missile destroyer to Libya to help evacuate some of the tens of thousands of Chinese citizens there as the revolution against former Libyan dictator Muammar al Qaddafi heated up.
These latest deployments of Chinese infantry are simply a reflection of China’s growing role in the world, motivated by the need to protect Chinese investments and to be seen as a more responsible player in global security affairs, say several experts.
“This role is not limited to Africa, and thus I don’t see this current shift as an ‘Africa’ policy, but rather the evolution of their U.N. role coupled, possibly, with a long-standing special relationship with Mali,” professor Deborah Brautigam with John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. “If they want to play a leadership role in the U.N., they need to step up and expand what they contribute to its various parts.”
For now, that means sending in a relative handful of troops. In the future, the numbers may not be quite so small.
“China is slowly setting the scene for eventually sending a combat unit to some future UN peacekeeping operation,” said David Chinn, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso who now teaches at The George Washington University. “In this sense, this is a significant development and is in keeping with China’s policy of slowing expanding the size and function of its support to peacekeeping.”
China plans airbase in Zim
Source: The Zimbabwean
China is planning to set up a modern high-tech military base in the diamond-rich Marange fields, says a German-based website, Telescope News.
26.02.1401:55pm Tweet Share
by Staff Reporter
The airstrip at Marange has sophisticated radar systems and ultra-modern facilities. The airstrip at Marange has sophisticated radar systems and ultra-modern facilities.
The news of the agreement to set up the first Chinese military airbase in Africa comes amid increasing bilateral cooperation between Zimbabwe and China – notably in mining, agriculture and preferential trade. China is the only country exempted from the indigenisation laws which force all foreign investors to cede 51% of their shareholding to carefully selected indigenous Zimbabweans.
The Marange story quoted unnamed military officials and a diplomat admitting knowledge of the plan to set up the base. Efforts to get a comment from the Zimbabwe Defence Forces were fruitless, as spokesperson Lt Col Alphios Makotore was consistently unavailable and did not respond to emails by the time of going to press.
The website speculated that China could be positioning itself for future “gunboat diplomacy” where its military presence would give it bargaining power against superpowers like the US. It would also be safeguarding its significant economic interests in Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa.
Veil of secrecy
“Military officials in Zimbabwe said details of the airbase plan were sketchy and mostly classified due to the veil of secrecy around President Robert Mugabe’s relationship with China’s Red Army. A sizeable number of Chinese troops are reported to have their boots on the ground in the Marange diamond fields, which have since been cordoned off as a high level security zone,” said the publication.
It added that a senior Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) officer based in Harare confirmed that there were rumours of the impending establishment of the airstrip as a “follow up to a military treaty signed between China and Zimbabwe in July 2005”.
Telescope News has made sensational claims in recent weeks, among them that Defence Minister and Zanu (PF) Secretary for Legal Affairs, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was secretly anointed by the military to succeed President Robert Mugabe.
It quoted a former Asian diplomat deployed to Zimbabwe for almost a decade as saying: “Haven’t you heard that Africa is the battlefield of tomorrow, today? As such in terms of geo-politics Zimbabwe is already a key battleground, for various competing powers. During my stay there, we heard about many military agreements being signed between the two countries.”
Chinese companies are heavily involved in diamond mining, in partnership with the Zimbabwe Government. They are believed to have constructed the airstrip at Marange that many suspect is being used to clandestinely haul diamonds to unknown destinations. It has sophisticated radar systems and ultra-modern facilities.
Confidential Central Intelligence Organisation documents leaked last year suggested that China had played a central role in retaining President Robert Mugabe in the July 31 elections, indicating that high level military officers had worked closely with the local army in poll strategies while Beijing bankrolled Zanu (PF).
China is Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner after South Africa and has strategic economic interests in many African countries to guarantee raw materials, job sources and markets for its huge population.
The new Chinese Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Lin Lin, recently said trade between the two countries last year exceeded the $1 billion mark. Yet Zimbabwe is only 26th on the list of China’s 58 biggest African trading partners.
The Asian country has supplied Zimbabwe with military hardware, including MIG jet fighters, tanks, armoured vehicles and rifles, since Independence.
It vetoed a move by the United Nations in 2005 to censor Zimbabwe following an uproar over increasing human rights abuses. – See Blood continues to be spilled in Marange.