China is assisting certain African states with the supply of defence equipment and infrastructure in a move that can significantly increase Beijing’s strategic presence in the continent.
According to Boston University’s Global Development Centre, China signed 27 loan deals with eight African countries worth $3.5 billion between 2000 and 2020 for defence spending.
Most of this was spent to purchase military aircraft, equipment and training and for building housing units for the military and police.
Around $2.1 billion, went to Zambia, which has also received massive loans from China to build highways, dams and airports. Other countries to receive Chinese military loans include Ghana, which received $389 million, Cameroon ($333 million), Tanzania ($285 million), Zimbabwe ($257 million), Sudan ($121 million), Sierra Leone ($16 million) and Namibia ($9 million).
According to Boston University’s Global Development Centre, Chinese lenders included the national policy bank, the Export-Import Bank of China (Eximbank), and Chinese companies such as Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) and Poly Technologies.
Jyhjong Hwang, the lead researcher for Boston University’s Chinese Loans to Africa Database, has claimed that Zambia was the top recipient of Chinese loans for defence equipment.
Erstwhile Rhodesia now Zimbabwe had once threatened Zambia with an embargo and invaded Zambian airspace in 1964. China came to Zambia’s support including for the Air Force. The Chinese military aircraft were competitive in price and loans were provided for it.
The Zambian Air Force is also a major employer as well as a property developer in Zambia, particularly in the capital Lusaka. Aviation Industry Corporation of China is not only a top aircraft supplier but also a construction company for large scale infrastructure projects — roads and airports.
The current Zambian fleet also includes Italian, Russian and Swedish aircraft.
John Calabrese, head of the Middle East-Asia Project at American University in Washington, told South China Morning Post that during the 1970s, Zambia’s relationship with Britain and Rhodesia deteriorated and the latter imposed an embargo on Zambian copper exports. Simultaneously it moved closer to Beijing.
Since 2006, China’s presence in Zambia has expanded and emerged as Zambia’s largest creditor.
“The Zambian military has been looking to modernise for several years and China might be interested to develop this aspect of relations to enlarge its presence in the African arms market and improve the security situation in the country – thereby protecting its investments in a country where it dominates the mining sector,” reported SCMP quoting Calabrese.
The Chinese involvement in Zambia has created controversy and the US Africa Command recently announced it is planning to open an office in the American embassy in Zambia to enhance security cooperation.