The Western media has played up recent stories about China helping the African Union to establish a rapid response force. The overarching storyline is that China is massively intervening in peace and security affairs in Africa. Some journalists have even predicted that the shift would lead to new conflicts between China and the US in Africa.
This media attention seemingly originated from a statement by South African President Zuma upon conclusion of his visit to China in December 2014. He talked about China’s readiness to provide help and finance for the African Union in its peacekeeping operations, including for the establishment of an African rapid response force. There are also media reports about President Zuma discussing the matter with Russia during his visit at the end of August. South Africa believes that an African rapid response force will require support from other BRICS countries in addition to China.
As a matter of fact, promoting peace and stability in Africa, and strengthening security cooperation with Africa has been an important pillar of China-Africa cooperation in recent years. In China’s African Policy, published in January 2006, the Chinese Government described in much detail the strengthening cooperation with African countries in peace and security. At the 5th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in July 2012, strengthening security cooperation appeared for the first time in a programmatic document as one of five major cooperation areas, together with investment and financing, assistance and people’s livelihood, African integration as well as people-to-people exchanges. When Premier Li Keqiang visited Africa in May 2014, peace and security was listed as one of the six major cooperation projects (the other five being industry, finance, poverty reduction, ecology and environment, and people-to-people exchanges). Li pledged to implement the Initiative on a China-Africa Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Security, actively explore the provision of help for regular and rapid response forces in Africa, support the building of African collective security mechanism, jointly expand with African cooperation in training, intelligence sharing and joint exercises, and help Africans to build up their capacity to safeguard peace, counter terrorism and to combat piracy.
Thus, China helping the African Union to build up its rapid response forces is no breaking news. It is rather a natural combination of African needs with Chinese will and capability. Strengthened security cooperation serves not only peace and stability in Africa by enhancing the continent’s security capability, but also interests the of all countries investing in Africa, including China and the US, as well as global interest in world peace and security.
The building of a rapid response force would contribute to the overall peacekeeping ability of Africa. In recent years, Africa’s development and revival has encountered a series of new impacts and challenges, the most important one in the peace and security field. With the Cote d’Ivoire civil war, South Sudan independence, Libyan war, turbulence in North Africa, crisis in Mali, Algeria hostage crisis, spread of terrorist activities, turmoil in the Central African Republic and conflict in South Sudan, the African situation has gone through complex and profound change. Although in 2003 the African Union announced a roadmap to create five sub-regional rapid response forces in north, east, west, central and south Africa respectively, and on that basis form the African rapid response force in 2010, due to a shortage of money and military assets, progress has been slow and off-track in establishing sub-regional forces, so the African Union had to delay the full operation of its rapid response force to 2015. Such a situation has constrained the African Union’s ability to effectively deal with various security crises and is not providing strong support to the idea of “resolving African problems in an African way by African people,” advocated and insisted upon by African countries.
Further, improved security capability will bring about a better investment environment, serving the interests of all countries investing in Africa and the maintenance of world peace and security. In recent years, with turbulence in North African countries and the negative spillover effects of the civil war in Libya, terrorist attacks have expanded and spread across Africa. The victims of the Algeria natural gas field hostage in early 2013 and the Nairobi Westgate Mall attack in September the same year were mostly citizens of Western countries. As the three major radical Islamic organizations (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Nigeria’s Boko Haram) move towards cooperation, the focus of anti-Jihad and anti-terror operations has started to shift to Africa. The global war on terrorism led by the US is also in need of an African rapid response force.
Besides, given the fact that over 90% of African Union’s peace and security operations depend on financial support from the EU and US, increased Chinese support represents an action by a responsible big country to share the fiscal burden of EU and US. In this connection, it would be logical if the Western media cheers the move.
Improving Africa’s security capacity is a desire shared in the international community to serve both African and global interests. The prediction of a new conflict between China and the US seems a bit extreme.