China and Russia are bringing their growing military cooperation to Africa

China and Russia are committed to bringing their growing defense ties to Africa, where both powers have increasingly invested their economic, political and military capital.

China, Russia and South Africa last week announced their intention to hold 10-day trilateral naval exercises off the southern coast of Africa next month, a plan that has raised concerns among critics of Moscow’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

After talks with his South African counterpart in Pretoria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov defended the exercises as a natural progression in which “three sovereign countries, without violating any norms of international law, conduct exercises”. He suggested that only “probably our American colleagues” would object because “they believe that only they can conduct exercises around the world”.

The top Russian diplomat said Moscow is “in favor of each country having its own rights in the international system, as stipulated in the UN Charter” and “it is for such reasons – not dictation, but equality, not imposition.” of decisions, but consensus, the search for a balance of interests – that we continue to develop our cooperation, also within the BRICS framework.”

BRICS is a multinational grouping that includes emerging economies Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which have increasingly sought areas of cooperation outside the Western framework of international relations.

Following Lavrov’s comments, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor took a similar position on the forthcoming joint exercises, which she called “just a natural series of exercises taking place between countries that have such ties”.

She referred to previous statements in which she claimed that “Africans must resist the impulse” to point at us the double standard of international behavior that: “What I do is fine with me, but you can’t do it because you are a developing country’ or ‘you are Africa’.”

“This is an abuse of international practice,” Pandor said. “All countries are conducting military exercises with friends around the world.”

China, PLAN, frigate, arrives in South Africa
People waving the flags of China and South Africa salute the arrival of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army naval frigate Weifang November 24, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa, ahead of trilateral exercises being conducted by China, Russia and South Africa.
Li Tang/Navy of the People’s Liberation Army

The three countries have previously held joint exercises at sea, including in November 2019, but the latest training was set to come at a particularly precarious time due to geopolitical tensions.

The Biden administration has made fresh efforts to revitalize ties with Africa, most notably through last month’s US-Africa leadership summit. US officials took the opportunity not only to promise more aid and investment in Africa, but also to warn leaders not only not to expand economic ties with China, but also to maintain trade with Russia amid Western sanctions in the Ukraine conflict.

But Beijing and Moscow have continued to expand their presence on the continent, where they have found a number of willing partners, including South Africa.

In keeping with a tradition spanning more than 30 years, China’s new foreign minister and former ambassador to the US, Qin Gang, visited Africa for his first trip of the year, visiting Ethiopia, Gabon, Angola, Benin and Egypt and meeting at African headquarters Union earlier this month.

He proclaimed that “the deep traditional friendship between China and Africa, rooted in the mutual support of both sides in the struggle for national liberation and emerging from mutual assistance in the pursuit of development, is a friendly cooperation that is characterized by Sincerity and real results distinguish, affinity and good faith based on mutual respect, equality, mutual benefit and win-win results.”

Both Beijing and Moscow have long histories of supporting African anti-colonial movements, many of which created new independent countries during the Cold War. The modern staying power of these relationships was met with dismay by the Western powers, some of whom colonized the continent and continue to exert influence there.

But in his remarks earlier this month, Qin said that “no country or individual has the power to force African countries to choose sides,” arguing that “Africa should be a stage for international cooperation, not an arena for rivalry between major forces.”

For China and Russia, two countries already expanding bilateral military ties, the joint exercise with South Africa presented an opportunity to strengthen defense engagement not only in Africa but also among the BRICS, which has opened up for expansion. A number of countries, including Algeria and Egypt in North Africa, have expressed interest in membership.

The exercise itself, dubbed “Exercise Mosi,” will take place between February 17 and 27 in the Durban and Richards Bay areas of South Africa’s Kwa-Zulu Natal province, according to the South African National Defense Force, which is in a on the Event referred to as “a means of strengthening the already flourishing relations between South Africa, Russia and China”.

Meet Xi, Ramaphosa, Putin, BRICS, 2018
Chinese President Xi Jinping, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive to pose for a group photo during the 10th BRICS Summit July 26, 2018 at the Sandton Convention Center in Johannesburg, South Africa. Originally formed as the BRIC in 2006, South Africa joined the multinational group in 2010 and countries that have since expressed interest in joining include Argentina, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates .

China, where President Xi Jinping has promised to give the People’s Liberation Army world-class status by mid-century, established its first and only official foreign base in east Africa’s Djibouti in 2017. Beijing is also working with African governments on defense issues through the China-Africa Defense and Security Forum.

All countries on the continent, except for the tiny kingdom of Eswatini, have joined Xi’s Belt and Road initiative, in which China is promising participants billions of dollars in infrastructure investments.

Russia has secured security deals and deepened its influence with a number of African countries, including Algeria, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, South Africa and Sudan, where the Russian Defense Ministry has been holding talks about the facility own base. Russia’s private military group Wagner is also active in several African countries, trying to address ongoing security issues at the request of national governments as Western influence wanes.

From 2017 to 2021, Russia also had a substantial lead in arms exports to Africa, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, accounting for about 44 percent of large arms transfers to Africa, more than the US, China and France combined.

But while France and other European participants in counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel have begun withdrawing their forces amid political disputes with host countries, the US still maintained by far the largest foreign military presence in Africa, with a presence in at least 29 locations across the country 15 African nations as of 2020.

Addressing the news of joint naval exercises between China, Russia and South Africa, Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder told reporters last Tuesday that South Africa “can choose with whom it wants.”

He said that “there are many countries that have a security or defense relationship with Russia,” many of which “have historically purchased Russian-built or Soviet-era equipment, so it stands to reason that they are of some type.” maintain the relationship.”

“From a security cooperation perspective, certainly from a US perspective, I think the types of security support that the United States is providing, including capabilities, are much more reliable and also maintained,” Ryder said.

He stressed that the US remains open to talks with other nations about purchasing these weapons systems.

“And something we continue to discuss with various partners and allies around the world [is] Should they decide to buy these types of systems, we’re certainly all ears,” Ryder said. China and Russia are bringing their growing military cooperation to Africa

Rick Schindler

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