Expanding Footprint of Chinese Weapon Systems in Africa a Major Concern for US: Israeli Experts


Foreign Affairs

Tel Aviv: The war in Ukraine and the pressure it is putting on the Russian defence industry opens new markets for Chinese defence contractors is some African countries. This according to Israeli sources will result in a much bigger Chinese presence in Africa that has to turn on Red lights in Washington.


“As the Chinese do with their economic programs in Africa, they will do now with the increased sales of their weapons to African states and that will further increase their impact,” a Israeli source said. The Chinese effort to achieve deeper penetration into African and Gulf states is reaching a new peak. Middle Eastern sources said that China has stepped up its ballistic missiles program with Saudi Arabia. According to media reports based on information from US intelligence agencies and satellite photographs, China is assisting Saudi Arabia in the al-Dawadami region as it develops its solid-fuel missile program. The satellite photographs show the solid fuel remnants and casting traces of missile engines.


In the 80s, China sold some ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia. These have been upgraded but Riyadh wants new designs and China was ready to help in achieving that goal. But African states are now in the focus of the Chinese expansion effort. In the past the Chinese economic help to African states was the basis for Beijing influence in these countries. But according to the Israeli sources, the war in Ukraine that has exhausted many of the Russian resources changed the situation. This has already affected the situation in some of the African states that have very close contacts with Russia. China has moved in very fast.


Galia Lavi, a senior researcher in the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) said that China has long relations with African states, mostly based on investment in infrastructure programs and other business that are based of supplying funding. “Now the Chinese use the Russian situation caused by the war in Ukraine to move into these countries’ defence markets. The Chinese policy is to get the greatest possible influence in foreign countries and now they have added weapon systems to the tools that help them achieve the goal,” said Galia Lavi.


Lavi added that the Chinese also use the fact that the US pulled out of some regions in Africa,  and told the relevant countries – “The American left. We are here to supply both economic and military help”.


The Chinese military assistance to some African states is not based only on weapon sales. In parallel, the Chinese are sending what they dub private military and security contractors (PMSC) to perform security missions in the African counties ports and other major infrastructure sites.


Chinese PMSCs have been operating in 15 African countries, while Beijing has exported weapons or arms to 17 nations on the continent, according to the RAND Corporation. China slightly lags behind Russia, whose private military and security contractors have won contracts in 31 African countries. Russia has also exported weapon systems to 14 African countries, according to data from RAND released in late December. Military shipments from China and Russia to African countries have included aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles, artillery, armoured vehicles, missiles and ships.


According to the Israel Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern and African Studies, the Russian African strategy was simple, consisting mainly of identifying a political vacuum or a space where it could disturb and disrupt the status quo, progressively establishing a presence there. Using the Wagner group or national Russian experts, Moscow offered local authorities assistance with security issues. The report mentions that once the Russian experts gained the trust of the local regime’s inner circles, deals could be struck for supplying security services in exchange for contracts for the management of natural resources.


The American military has established a vast network of bases in more than a dozen African nations since 9/11. The American forces in Africa have been performing combat missions against Islamic terror groups.

The Russian presence in the African countries have not limited the US military activity. The question raised now by some Israeli experts focus on to what extent the growing Chinese military presence in Africa will affect the American activities.


Prof Uzi Rabi, an expert on Middle Eastern and African issues from the Dayan Centre in Israel said that the Chinese faster penetration into Africa should be one of the top worries of the US. He pointed to the fact that China in 2016 established a naval base in Djibouti. The United States, France, India, and Japan also have bases in this area that controls the very strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait and enables these actors from other nations to carefully watch and defend ships that are navigating the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.


Prof Rabi added that the Chinese base is part of China’s master plan to be present in strategic points on the, maritime route to Europe. “Beijing was very fast to take advantage of the diminishing status of the U.S in the region and now with Russia’s problems their actions will be even easier.”


According to Israeli sources, Russia transferred “big numbers” of the Wagner group Russian mercenaries that operated in some African countries to fight in Ukraine and that also enabled China to bring in its “military observers”. The Israeli sources also added that the growing Chinese presence in some African states will allow Beijing an easier way to operate its vast SIGINT operation aimed at learning as much as possible on the capabilities of US forces in Africa mainly at sea and in the air.