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The TownhallPolitics

Chinese police stations in Africa: helpful or dangerous?

By Simon Mwebaze

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.

China is Africa’s most significant trade partner as well as partner on infrastructure projects. China-Africa trade last year was worth $250 billion, a rise of 35.3% year on year. China’s infrastructural investments amount to $23 billion in infrastructure projects. But it does not look like China plans to remain just the leader in trade and infrastructure projects in Africa. They are adding police stations in different African states. 

According to Chinese authorities, between April 2021 to July 2022, 230,000 Chinese nationals were recalled to return to China to face criminal charges. The criminal charges claimed by the Chinese government include fraud, telecom fraud, and cybercrimes. In addition to these calls for nationals to return, the Chinese government used threats and intimidation tactics against family, relatives, and children of the criminal foreign nationals including denying children access to education.

The Chinese government also identified nine countries where Chinese nationals are no longer allowed to stay without “good reason.”

In addition to threats and intimidation, the Chinese government has been setting up police stations in different countries across the world. The police stations are set up in over 20 countries on continents including Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Africa. In Africa, they already have police stations in Lesotho, Nigeria, and Tanzania. 

Why use this approach rather than collaborate with local authorities? The Chinese government claims local authorities work and protect these criminals. Due to this, they prefer to collaborate with United Front-linked overseas NGOs, civil societies, and organizations.

Besides the police posts in these African countries, South Africa has also been making news for hosting Chinese Community and Police Co-operation Centers. The centers were created primarily to improve relations and communication between South African police and the local Chinese community. 13 centers have been opened to date with the last center opened in 2018 in Port Elizabeth.

The purpose of the centers dates back to 2004 after the targeted attacks on Chinese nationals in South Africa. In 2003, 24 Chinese nationals were murdered in Johannesburg. Additionally, among 14 warehouses, eight Chinese warehouses were robbed of ceramics and bedclothes. The rest of the warehouses were left unscathed and unaffected by the robberies. 

Due to these incidents, in 2004, the South African Chinese Community and Police Cooperation Center was established in Johannesburg. The purpose of the center was to assist Chinese people to report crimes. The center also provided support for SAPS (South African Police Services) in investigating crimes against Chinese nationals. Besides providing information to SAPS, it also provides information to the Chinese authorities back home. 

While the South African police have benefitted through education programs from the centers, there are concerns. The centers and police stations are causing suspicion of African recolonization.

Already, China has been suspected of debt-trap diplomacy by financing several infrastructure projects across the African continent. Colonization is known to take place in three steps; mercantile diplomacy, militarization, and suzerain. 

The first step of mercantile diplomacy is already in play. China has already established trade ties with Africa, overtaking the US as Africa’s biggest trade partner. Besides trade, China finances several African infrastructure projects including road networks, electricity dams, bridges, railways, airports, and many others. Many of these projects are financed by Chinese-owned banks under loan terms that seem unfavorable to African countries. The loan terms are unfavorable because African countries have a bad track record for paying back loans so Chinese loans have been suspected of tying African infrastructure as collateral in the agreements. Countries that have been plagued with such rumors include Zambia, Kenya, and Uganda. The term coined for this is debt-trap diplomacy. 

The next step is militarization. While it may not directly seem like the Chinese are establishing a military presence, it could be suspected that the police stations and centers could be a step in that direction. In South Africa, there are already 13 police centers providing information on crimes against nationals back home. More so, other African countries such as Lesotho, Nigeria, and Tanzania have Chinese police stations that do not work with local authorities but rather with overseas organizations. The lack of collaboration with local authorities causes concern about the establishment of these stations including what jurisdiction they use when charging criminals.

The final step of colonization is when both the economy of the country is in the hands of the colonizer and there is a strong military presence. Both make the colonized country dependent on the colonizer and allow them to create policies for the colonized country. While that has not happened yet in the context of African countries, it may be plausible given what the Chinese have done so far. 

The presence of Chinese police stations in Africa is a reality. What is not obvious is the intention behind them. The lack of cooperation with local authorities in African countries besides South Africa gives Africans a reasonable cause for suspicion of recolonization under the guise of trade and repatriating Chinese criminals.

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Simon Mwebaze

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