Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Asian Scramble for Africa

Concerns about China's involvement in Africa are often overplayed. Accusations that it is buying up vast tracts of farmland, factories and mines, for instance, are blown out of proportion. Even so… China's involvement in Africa now includes a growing military presence. Thousands of Chinese soldiers have donned the U.N.'s blue helmets in Mali and South Sudan, where several have been killed trying to keep an imaginary peace. Chinese warships regularly visit African ports. China maintains a naval squadron that escorts mostly Chinese-flagged vessels through the Gulf of Aden. But some diplomats fret that China has been using these patrols to give its navy practice in operating far from home, including in offensive actions. Patrolling for pirates has also given China an excuse to set up its first overseas base in Djibouti, next door to an American one.

India is deeply suspicious of China's presence in the Indian Ocean. A wide network of some 32 Indian radar stations and listening posts is being developed in the Seychelles, Madagascar and Mauritius, among other countries. This will enable India to monitor shipping across expanses of the ocean.

Japan has also been flexing its naval muscle but in a more limited manner. Last month it pledged $120 million in aid to boost counterterrorism efforts in Africa. It has been a stalwart contributor to the multinational naval force policing the seas off Somalia's coast. Sino-Japanese rivalry is fiercest in diplomacy and trade. Two prizes are on offer: access to natural resources and markets, and the continent's 54 votes at the U.N. Japan recently handed over the keys to a new cargo terminal at Kenya's main port in Mombasa. Meanwhile, a short hop down the coast, Bagamoyo, Tanzania, is building East Africa's biggest port with Chinese cash.

Africa has taken center stage in recent months as Seoul and Pyongyang also jockey for influence. Much attention has been given to South Korea’s recent charm offensive, led by President Park Geun-hye’s May tour of Africa. The trip culminated in a key victory by Park to undermine North Korea’s influence in the region — an announcement by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni that his country would sever military and security ties with Pyongyang, ending a long-standing Cold War partnership. Uganda’s decision was followed by Namibia, another longtime ally of Pyongyang, agreeing to comply with UN sanctions by ousting two North Korean firms that were constructing an arms and munition factory in nation’s capital, Windhoek.

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