China’s bilateral relations with many African states already include sending military attaches and holding joint drills and live-fire military exercises.
In 2015, President Xi Jinping pledged to provide “$100 million of free military assistance to the African Union in the next five years to support the establishment of the African Standby Force and the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crisis.” Part of the Chinese government’s second Africa policy paper is a strong focus on the professionalization of training programs in which tens of thousands of African military officials are invited to China for workshops.
China’s involvement in U.N. peacekeeping operations (PKOs) is another sign of this commitment. China ranks second (after the United States) in financial support of PKOs and first among the U.N. Security Council’s permanent members in contributing peacekeepers. Since Xi’s pledge before the United Nations to further support U.N. PKOs with funds and an 8,000 troop standby force, China has been working on training peacekeepers — both national and foreign units.
China has taken a comprehensive approach, blending trade and investment deals and cultural exchanges with arms sales, medical assistance, troops training, anti-piracy drills and other programs. Here’s another example: The Chinese military base in Djibouti included huge investment deals and developmental projects that were signed into the base package deal. For nearly two decades, the Forum on China Africa Cooperation(FOCAC) has pursued steady economic and cultural diplomacy. FOCAC meetings have taken place every three years since the year 2000, with the location alternating between China and an African country. The continuity and consistency of the forum helped institutionalize China’s multilateral cooperation with African states.
FOCAC also provided Chinese foreign policymakers the experience to apply this forum diplomacy to regions outside Africa (such as the China Arab States Cooperation Forum, initiated in 2004). The security and defense forum will probably be a recurrent element of China-Africa relations — and also a potential launchpad for China’s defense relations to regions beyond Africa.