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Analysis: Chinese arms and African oil

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by Andrei Chang
Hong Kong (UPI) Nov 5, 2007
China has been promoting arms-for-oil deals with Africa as the continent is becoming one of its major sources of oil. Since last year, top Chinese leaders and military officers have made frequent visits to Africa. And at the Zhuhai Air Show under way this week in southern China's Guangdong province, military delegations from African countries including Sudan, Angola and Zimbabwe have made frequent appearances.

In 2005, Angola exported to China nearly 17.5 million tons of crude oil, becoming China's second largest oil supplier after Saudi Arabia. Oil from Angola makes up nearly 14 percent of China's annual oil imports, valued at $6.58 billion. In the months of January and February last year, Angola surpassed Saudi Arabia to become China's largest supplier of crude oil, providing 456,000 barrels per day.

China's influence in Angola is becoming increasingly noticeable. The residences of many of the country's top leaders were built by Chinese workers. In June last year, China Petrochemical Corp., the SINOPEC Group, signed a $1.4 billion deal with the Angolan Sonangol Co. to develop new oil fields. China also offered Angola a loan of $3 billion to help rebuild its economic infrastructure, destroyed by years of civil war.

At the Zhuhai Air Show, which opened last Thursday, military delegations from Angola and Sudan were allowed to make very careful examinations of FC-1 fighters and K-8 trainer aircraft. Angola and Ethiopia were the first African countries to receive Su-27 SK fighters; Angola has ordered eight.

It can be predicted that revenues from oil exports could make Angola one of the most prosperous countries in the region. With respect to the traditional influence of Russia in this country, it would be comparatively more difficult for Chinese arms to enter this market in large batches. However, through an arms-for-oil deal, it is possible that Angola may resume importing weapons systems from China, particularly light weapons.

Sudan's armed forces have the strongest Chinese color in the region. From its military trucks to T-62 light tanks and F-7 fighters, they are all Chinese products. Sudan has also expressed an interest in purchasing 12 FC-1 fighters; the technical details of the deal are currently under negotiation. In 1996 Sudan purchased 6 F-7M fighters from China, and another two Y-8 transport aircraft are also in service.

Other Chinese weapons currently in service in the Sudanese forces include Type 54 122-mm howitzers, Type 59-I 130-mm cannons, Type 81 122-mm rocket guns, Type 59 57-mm air-defense guns, mortars of different calibers, eight J-6 fighters and a number of J-7 fighters.

In 2005 Sudan exported to China 6.6 million tons of crude oil, about 5.2 percent of China's total oil imports in that year. China has a 40 percent stake in Sudan's largest international oil consortium.

As Africa's largest oil producer, Nigeria is a target country for China's friendly relations drive. In 2005 Nigeria exported 1.3 million tons of oil to China, which made up 1 percent of China's oil imports. Bilateral trade between the two countries reached $2.83 billion. Last year China National Offshore Oil Corp. invested $2.27 billion to acquire a 45 percent stake in Nigeria's offshore oilfields. This is China's largest investment ever in Africa so far.

At the same time, China's military influence has started to penetrate into Nigeria. In 2005 Nigeria spent $251 million on the purchase of 12 F-7 NI and three FT-7 NI fighters, the very first time for Chinese combat aircraft to enter the country. African military observers claimed that payment for this deal was most likely arranged through oil exports.

Congo is China's eighth-largest source of oil supplies. In 2005 Congo exported 5.5 million tons of crude oil to China, amounting to about 4.4 percent of China's oil imports. As an international arms embargo on Congo is still in place, it would be unlikely for China to sell military equipment to Congo during this period. But Congo is a traditional client for Chinese weapons systems. At present, the Congo military forces are armed with 30 Type 59 tanks. Other Chinese weapons still in service in the Congo army include approximately 30 Type 63 107-mm rocket guns, Type 60 122-mm howitzers, Type 59 130-mm cannons and various types of mortars.

Last year China declared that it would provide to Egypt a loan of $50 million and economic aid worth $10 million. In addition, the two countries signed a cooperation agreement in oil and natural gas development.

Egypt is one of the countries with the most Chinese-made weapons in Africa. The largest project between the two countries was the agreement on the production of 80 K-8 trainer aircraft, signed in February 1999. Production of the trainers in the agreement has been completed. The total value of the deal is $347 million. In 2005 Egypt ordered another 40 K-8 trainers, making the total number of K-8s in the country 120. At present there are 53 J-7 fighters still in service in the Egyptian air force.

Chinese military equipment can be found in other African countries, including Mauritania, Algeria and Zimbabwe, to name a few. In 2006 China sold Algeria one 5,500-ton training ship, and its three C-85 (Project 802) 500-ton-class missile fast craft are also fitted with Chinese-made C802 ship-to-ship missiles. In 2001 China delivered one 400-ton class patrol boat to the Mauritanian navy. Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe have respectively acquired eight, four and six K-8 trainers from China. China is also promoting its K-8 trainer to Kenya, Sudan, Ghana and Tanzania.

Zimbabwe is already acquiring stocks of Chinese weapons. The country's main battle tanks are virtually all made in China. At present, the Zimbabwe army is equipped with 30 Type 59 Tanks and 10 Type 69 Tanks, and more than half of its armored transport vehicles are Chinese-made Type 63s. The Zimbabwe air force is also armed with nine J-7 fighters.

With China's demand for oil from Africa increasing, more Chinese weapons are expected to enter this region in the years to come.

(Andrei Chang is the editor in chief of the Kanwa Defense Review.)

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