By Kelvin Kantor
OVER the past decade arms exports have become an integral part of China’s cooperation with Africa. China’s exports of military gear to the continent have increased 55 percent in the five-year period from 2013 to 2017, compared to the preceding five years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Beijing’s share of total arms exports to Sub-Saharan African countries rose from 16 to 27 percent during this period. According to the Washington-based think tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), China exported US$3 billion worth of weapons to Africa in 2008-17. The increase in weapons exports corresponds with the surge in foreign investment from China, which increased in Africa from around US$40 billion in 2012 to US$90 billion in 2016.
Two thirds of African countries now use Chinese arms. Over the last few years Chinese weapons exports reached record highs, according to The Military Balance 2016 report published in February by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). It described Africa as an increasingly important market for China’s defence exports that had become “emergent customers” for Beijing’s arms exports since 2005.
Recent Chinese defence exports to Africa include naval vessels, combat aircraft, infantry fighting vehicles. China has also consolidated its position on the market for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) because of American reluctance to export them.
Jerome Pellistrandi, professor at the University of Clermont-Ferrand and editor of the magazine Défense Nationale, said that some African governments find it easier to acquire weapon systems from the Chinese than from European manufacturers just, because Beijing has fewer reservations about human rights.
But lately, arms deals have slowed because the global perception of the Chinese defence industry is still less than adequate. Some of the perceptions are due to malfunctioning systems or defective weapon designs.
One good example is Algeria, which alone accounts for 10 percent of China’s total arms exports, including three modern frigates. But in operating these warships a number of key defects were discovered: weak tractive power, usage of Israeli made electronic components, which is unacceptable for Algerians, incorrect work of the navigation systems. In particular, the electronic maps display some areas of the Mediterranean Sea with errors and it has negative impact on targeting accuracy of boarding weaponry.
Another example is Cameroon. It purchased four brand new Harbin Z-9 attack helicopters from China after Beijing offered a US$100 million loan last year. But one of them had crashed soon after being handed over. Cameroon is still negotiating with China over the accident and abandoned all plans to buy other Chinese weapons due to quality concerns.
It’s also worth to mention that Zimbabwean army is not satisfied with quality of Chinese munition production equipment. The supplied hardware malfunction at times, shell casings corrode and ammo have external defects, which leads to jamming of weaponry. Zimbabweans are also unhappy with Chinese cars Dongfeng EQ 2050. Out of total 47 purchased two years ago, 13 of them have already went wrong and it’s impossible to repair them in Zimbabwe.
Military experts say that Chinese arms producers need to increase quality of their output in the longer term if they hope to build up brand names for their weapons in the international market.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015