June 28, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, focuses on recent arms deals in Africa by the People’s Republic of China, which he notes “serve a wide array of Chinese foreign and even domestic policy purposes, including improving relations with particular countries, securing access to desired resources, strengthening allies, gaining commercial opportunities, and, not least of all, directly benefiting the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the defense establishment” by subsidizing its research and development costs on new weapons systems.

Surveying some recent Chinese deals with strife-torn Sudan as well as Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, the article notes:

Like its engagement in so many other sectors, China’s involvement in the African arms trade will likely only broaden and deepen with Beijing’s interest in and influence over the continent. What is troubling about this is Beijing’s “no strings attached” posture whereby its arms deals, like its political and commercial ties, are struck with incumbent regimes irrespective of their governance or human rights records. While other powers involved in Africa—the United States included—have had to deal with some of the continent’s less than savory regimes, in these cases the Western governments were, to a certain extent, checked by the fact that they could only go so far lest civil society groups at home raise issues. The Chinese authorities have no such constraint. Furthermore, the PRC’s entrance into Africa also undermines what little leverage Western governments and international organizations have with recalcitrant regimes by offering the latter diplomatic cover as well as more concrete assistance in exchange for their support of Beijing’s interests.

Dr. Pham recommends that “if, as the 2006 National Security Strategy of the United States went out of its way to affirm, ‘Africa holds growing geo-strategic importance and is a high priority of this Administration’ and that ‘the United States recognizes that our security depends upon partnering with Africans to strengthen fragile and failing states and bring ungoverned areas under the control of effective democracies,’ then Chinese moves there need to be closely followed, especially if they result in additional arms flowing to despotic regimes and fueling simmering conflicts.’”

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “Hu’s Selling Guns to Africa,” click here.