The debate on China-Africa relations has largely focused on Beijing’s massive infrastructure projects around the continent. Less noticeable but no less significant are its security activities, which have grown in scale and scope alongside the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), President Xi Jinping’s signature program to strengthen infrastructure, trade, and investment links in Africa, South Asia, and Europe.
China’s growing military footprint in Africa is part of a policy that has at its core the rejuvenation of China as a “Great Power” or shijie qiang guo. In the past decade, it has pursued an increasingly competitive and assertive foreign policy that made a decisive break with Beijing’s decades-long approach of “hiding our capabilities,” “biding our time,” and “keeping a low profile”—a policy known as taoguang yanghui. According to Xi, “China now stands tall and firm in the East” and should “take center stage” in the world. This theme is echoed in the Diversified Employment of the Armed Forces, China’s defense guidance, which says that a world-class military deployable in a wide range of scenarios is indispensable in pursuing the “Great Rejuvenation of China.”