The Rise of Chinese Military Contractors in Africa
February 24, 2021
February 24, 2021
With over 200,000 Chinese workers, 10,000 Chinese companies, and the rollout of Belt and Road Initiative projects in Africa, security concerns exist.
Enter the Chinese military contractors in Africa. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) integrated Chinese Private Military and Security Companies (C-PMSCs) to protect Chinese state interests abroad.
Private Chinese security groups were actively involved in the 2012 rescue of 29 kidnapped workers in Sudan. The Dewe Security Group were active in training security forces in Kenya and secured a contract to protect a Chinese LNG facility in Ethiopia.
It is highly likely that the use of such companies in Africa will increase. Under Chinese law, bearing arms for the contractors (with exceptions) is illegal, removing the capability for lethal violence. There is a real possibility this may change as operations expand into increasingly insecure zones.
While American military contractors such as Blackwater, and Russian Wagner Group activities receive significant research, Chinese military contractors enjoy less ‘limelight’. Shandong Huawei Security Group, Hua Xin Zhong An Security Service, Beijing Security Service, DeWe Security Service, and Ding Tai An Yuan Security are some of the many active Chinese military contractors.
This Grey Dynamics African intelligence article analyses the rise of Chinese military contractors in Africa, providing a context for their utilisation and analysing their activities.
The soft power approach Beijing has adopted in Africa benefits from a soft military presence. Although China created its first overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017, this is highly unlikely to be a prelude for mass military expansion in Africa. However, with mass economic and political expansion in Africa, including the Belt and Road infrastructure project, protection is highly desired.
The desire is matched by significant spending power. Chinese state-owned companies in 2017 alone generated $51 billion in revenue from Belt and Road projects. While in 2020, China oversaw more construction projects than the combined projects of France, Italy, and the United States.
This is largely due to China’s willingness to invest in high-risk regions, supported by the statistic that 84% of the Belt and Road investments are in medium- to high-risk countries. The local operating environment requires Chinese military contractors in Africa, providing flexibility and with a blend of state and commercial-orientated security.
A key difference in Chinese military contractors in Africa compared to other key players in the alleged unarmed element. This translates to an emphasis on advising and working closely with local security and military forces. This has not only witnessed the supply of advanced military hardware for local forces but also intelligence collection and analysis on threats. A loophole exists for carrying weapons.
Consulting and equipping provide grounds to carry weapons, however, this loophole is used by Russian PMCs who actively engage in African security operations which a previous Grey Dynamics article covered. It is not yet clear if Chinese military contractors have or will adopt similar characteristics. As these companies expand into the Iraq and Afghanistan security markets, there is a realistic probability that the mandate will adapt to meet security requirements in a highly volatile environment.
There are other exemptions in armed maritime escorts in African waters, provided by the Hua Xin Zhong An Security Service. The DeWe Security Service Group is highly active, operating in DRC, Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Djibouti, and Ethiopia. The group has trained 70,000 Chinese contractors and completed 3,000 training contracts for local African partners. The $4 billion LNG project in Ethiopia is of key importance to Chinese commerce, requiring the group to secure the site.
DeWe also trained local security forces in Kenya, under a contract to protect the $3.8 billion Standard Guage Railway in Kenya. This railway is of significant importance to the Belt and Road initiative infrastructure. Chinese military contractors are also highly active in the mining industry. In June 2020, Zimbabwe, a Chinese manager working in a mine in Gweru was charged for allegedly shooting two locals. This was cited as an isolated incident but may indicate a nefarious element.
The operations of Chinese military contractors in Africa fall under China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) role in Africa, addressed in Chapter 2 of China’s Military Strategy (2015) White Paper:
It is beyond a reasonable doubt that most of the Chinese military contractors, if not all, operating in Africa support Chinese foreign policy objectives. This is not only supported by the activities but the fact that the state has a significant majority ownership in the companies and can influence the Board of Directors through a majority. This allows the PRC to expand its military footprint in Africa, without having to use official PLA forces.
Link: South World (link)
Eren Ersozoglu is an analyst at Grey Dynamics. A former history graduate from Coventry University with a focus on links between terrorism and organised crime and intelligence and security studies graduate at Brunel University.