China’s expanding presence in Africa has now extended to the realm of law enforcement as Beijing seeks to safeguard its nationals abroad and apprehend individuals wanted for alleged crimes. The Chinese government has inked public security and law enforcement agreements with approximately 40 African nations, highlighting the growing cooperation in this sector. As a result, Chinese policing norms are being promoted within African police forces, according to Paul Nantulya, an Africa-China security expert.
One noteworthy example of this cooperation occurred in Uganda, where a joint operation involving over 30 Chinese commandos and Ugandan special forces led to the arrest and deportation of four Chinese nationals accused of being involved in criminal activities. This joint effort demonstrates the active involvement of China in enforcing the law and protecting its citizens in Africa.
China’s increased engagement in African countries, driven by its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative and mega-project funding, has also made Chinese nationals more susceptible to attacks. In March, a tragic incident in the Central African Republic killed nine Chinese workers at a gold mining site. Concerns over the safety of Chinese nationals have prompted warnings about the heightened risk of kidnappings and assaults, particularly in resource-rich regions like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Nigeria.
To address these security challenges, China’s public security ministry dispatched a team of experts to the DRC last year when the situation deteriorated. Additionally, Beijing has pledged to send criminal investigators to Nigeria following an increase in kidnappings and attacks targeting Chinese citizens in the country. This proactive approach by China showcases its commitment to safeguarding its nationals and maintaining stability in African nations.
In line with these efforts, Chinese law enforcement cooperation with African counterparts is gaining momentum. According to Nantulya’s report, more than 2,000 African police and law enforcement personnel have received training in China between 2018 and 2021. This exchange of expertise and knowledge serves to strengthen the capabilities of African police forces and align them with Chinese policing norms.
The report, which the Africa Centre published for Strategic Studies at the National Defence University in Washington, sheds light on China’s growing influence in African law enforcement. As part of their cooperation, China’s Ministry of Public Security and Ethiopia have signed a cooperation framework aimed at protecting major Chinese-assisted projects in the country, such as the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Standard Gauge Railway. Similarly, in Kenya, the government collaborated with China to establish an elite police force responsible for safeguarding the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway.
China’s expansion of its law enforcement activities across Africa represents a multifaceted approach to protecting its national interests, promoting stability, and ensuring the safety of its citizens abroad. By signing agreements and providing training, China is actively engaging with African nations to tackle security challenges and enhance the capacity of local law enforcement agencies.
This growing cooperation strengthens China’s presence in Africa and reinforces its position as a major player in the region’s security landscape. As China continues to pursue its economic and strategic interests on the continent, its involvement in law enforcement will likely deepen, shaping the dynamics of security cooperation between China and Africa for years to come.
The expansion of China’s law enforcement activities in Africa encompasses a range of initiatives that have largely evaded scrutiny, according to Paul Nantulya, an Africa-China security expert. Joint operations, which are conducted more frequently by China’s law enforcement agencies than by the People’s Liberation Army, represent a prominent aspect of this growing engagement.
In addition to joint operations, China has established police training schools and police stations and supplied police equipment across various parts of Africa. Nantulya highlights China’s “no questions asked” policy, which allows the equipment to be purchased without concerns about human rights-related export controls and end-user monitoring. This policy has facilitated the acquisition of surveillance systems, national security networks, and other security goods like anti-riot gear. Between 2003 and 2017, African countries secured approximately US$3.56 billion in Chinese loans for public security purposes. It’s worth noting that most of the equipment falls under military sales, suggesting that the figure provided is likely underestimated.
Chinese police training in Africa goes beyond technical skills. It encompasses political and ideological principles based on the Communist Party’s model of absolute party control over security forces and the state. Nantulya identifies Nigeria, Lesotho, Mauritius, and at least 20 other countries as having relationships with China’s Special Police College, which specializes in counterterrorism training.
Furthermore, the Shandong Police College maintains ongoing relationships with Rwanda and the African Union counterterrorism program. Some training programs take place within Africa, such as a joint initiative between the Algerian Ministry of Interior and Local Authorities and the Chinese Academy of Governance. Over the period of 2015 to 2018, more than 400 Algerian police, law enforcement, and civil service personnel graduated from this program.
Nantulya points out that China has found a receptive audience among certain African leaders who are concerned with regime survival. These leaders admire the Communist Party’s methods of control and the extensive police-state machinery that surpasses the budget of the People’s Liberation Army.
The deepening engagement of China in African law enforcement activities raises questions about the implications for governance, human rights, and the influence of Chinese norms and practices in the region. While Chinese assistance can strengthen law enforcement capabilities and combat security challenges, it also brings concerns about potential surveillance, control, and the exportation of authoritarian practices. As China expands its influence in Africa, the impact of its law enforcement activities will continue to shape the dynamics of governance and security cooperation in the years to come.
Beijing is actively pursuing increased exchanges and cooperation with military and police academies as part of its proposed Global Security Initiative. The concept paper for the initiative, released in February, states that China is willing to offer 5,000 training opportunities to professionals from other developing countries over the next five years, specifically focusing on addressing global security issues. This demonstrates China’s commitment to enhancing international cooperation in the realm of security.
According to David Shinn, a professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, China has been expanding its engagement with African police forces for several years. This engagement is driven by two main factors: the requests of African governments and the objective of improving security for Chinese nationals residing, working, or visiting Africa. Notably, security cooperation has been particularly developed in South Africa, which hosts the largest Chinese community on the continent.
While much of the collaboration between China and African police forces has been positive and has provided valuable training for African personnel, it does raise concerns, especially in countries where the police have a reputation for corruption. The involvement of Chinese law enforcement agencies in these regions could potentially clash with existing challenges related to corruption within local police forces. This aspect warrants careful consideration and management to ensure that cooperation efforts remain effective and ethical.
It is essential to strike a balance between improving security cooperation and addressing the potential risks associated with corruption. Strengthening the capacity and professionalism of African police forces is crucial, but it should be done to promote transparency, accountability, and adherence to the rule of law. By doing so, the cooperation between China and African police forces can enhance security, promote stability, and protect the interests of both Chinese nationals and African communities.
As China’s influence in Africa grows, it becomes increasingly important to address any challenges arising from this expanding security cooperation. African governments must play an active role in ensuring that their police forces maintain their integrity and professionalism while benefiting from the training and assistance provided by China. Additionally, both China and African nations should prioritize regular evaluations and assessments of the cooperation programs to identify areas of improvement and address any concerns that may arise.
Overall, the engagement between China and African police forces represents a significant opportunity for collaboration, knowledge exchange, and capacity building. It can contribute to addressing common security challenges faced by both China and Africa, such as terrorism, transnational crime, and regional instability.
However, the potential risks, particularly regarding corruption, should be carefully managed to ensure that the cooperation remains effective, ethical, and aligned with the principles of good governance and respect for human rights. Through continued dialogue and cooperation, China and African nations can work together to enhance security and foster sustainable development across the continent.