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Africa, China and India

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The size of Africa’s population is comparable to China’s or India’s population: some 1.2 billion people. They are, however, spread over some fifty countries of very different size, nature, economic power and strategic importance. Since, under the Trump Administration, the US has shifted its strategic priorities with regard to Africa from development to security and counter-terrorism, the field for competitors for influence has been widened. Russia is taking advantage in Northern Africa and China in East Africa, from where the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is spreading to reach out to more of the African continent. These lines are (again) about China’s growing influence in the world and India’s (partial) lack of competitive response. In East Africa, China is funding and constructing railways for more than eight billion US dollars starting in the seaports of Port Sudan reaching Sudan’s capital Khartoum, or Djibouti reaching Ethiopia’s capital Addis Abeba, or Mombasa reaching Kenya’s capital Nairobi, or Tanzania’s Dar-es-Salaam reaching landlocked Zambia. These are infrastructural projects of a durable nature, which are meant to enhance Chinese trade routes and, not least, Chinese strategic influence. Of particular importance is the relatively new development that China is engaging in UN-Peacekeeping operations, from which China used to be globally absent, in remarkable contrast to India, which is one of the UN’s most important troop contributors in Peacekeeping operations globally. Unlike the Chinese contribution to security and safety, India’s efforts serve the more general and global interests of the world community. China, however, has a clear interest-driven concept behind its peacekeeping activities: they serve first of all Chinese interests by stabilizing the countries which are already recipients of Chinese infrastructural investments or which are supposed to remain or become markets for Chinese goods or suppliers of strategic goods like essential natural resources. Chinese peace-keeping troops can be found in Africa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Djibouti, in Mali, in South Sudan and in Sudan. This continental spread may already hint at China’s comprehensive approach when deploying military means across the African continent. The vast majority of Chinese peacekeeping personnel are deployed to missions in Africa. There must be a strategic design of promoting its own interests behind this fact. In contrast, India’s troop deployment is concentrated on the UN missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in South Sudan, thus clearly indicating India’s focused policy of “serving the international community’s main peace engagements”.  Difficult to imagine how this tactical devotion to international interests should at the same time serve Indian strategic interests! History could have suggested that India tried to reestablish its earlier presence in East Africa, from where Indian settlers were brutally thrown out with force, or in South Africa, where they still form a small, but historically constituent part of the local population. To remind: Mahatma Gandhi, “father of the Indian nation”, had been, once, for a few years a fervent defender of the rights of Indians in South Africa. Back to this column’s subject: China’s growing influence in the world and India’s (partial) lack of competitive response. During his first term in office, India’s Prime Minister Modi had indicated his willingness to open up new strategic options. A few months into his second term, his fundamental motivation behind his actions domestically is getting clearer: fulfilling the visions of his core supporters of a nation for Hindus only. The Hindu nationalist movement’s dominant role in Indian politics today is possibly having an impact also on foreign policies. The very recent decision of the Modi government to abolish the limited autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir can be seen as an omen for consequences on a wider strategic range. Jammu and Kashmir is within the Union the only Muslim-majority state. The abrupt change of that state’s status within the Union is a most telling message not only to hostile Muslim neighbor Pakistan, but to the wider Muslim world, some of which lies in Africa. While China, loyal to its foreign policies, strictly limits its actions in Africa to the promotion of its strategic interests without regard to local ethnic or religious structures, India will, in the future, most probably be associated with anti-Muslim forces also outside of India. Once India gives itself the means for a more active promotion of its strategic interests overseas, the observers will see, how far the recent Hindu message sent out by PM Modi will be able to affect India’s interests also in Africa. 

11th October 2019 / Philippe Welti

(Sources: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2019, London 2019;  The International Institute for Strategic Studies, Strategic Survey 2017, London 2017; The International Institute for Strategic Studies, Survival, Volume 61, Number 5, London 2019  )

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