ANALYSIS - West Worried Over Russia, China's Influence In Africa As Nations Join S.Africa For Drills

MOSCOW (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 29th November, 2019) The Russian, Chinese and South African navies are holding five-day joint military drills near Cape Town this week, prompting concerns among Western countries over the growing influence of Moscow and Beijing in Africa.

The drills, which are bringing together the navies of the three BRICS countries for the first time from November 25-30, are meant to train "a multinational task force to react to and counter security threats at sea," according to the South African military.

STRATEGIC INTERESTS AND 'SPIRIT OF MULTILATERALISM'

Dr. M. V. Ramana, the Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia, told Sputnik that the main goal of the ongoing drills, code-named Mosi, was to build stronger military cooperation between its two main participants - Russia and China.

"The joint naval exercise between China, Russia and South Africa is a new development in increasing military cooperation between China and Russia. It does represent an increased presence of both these countries in the continent of Africa. China, Russia and South Africa have earlier joined each other through the BRICS forum, but this military exercise appears to be a first time effort. And finally, this is another step in China's efforts to acquire a blue water naval capability. All of these reasons would create greater concern, if not fear, among Western countries about Russia and China," the expert noted.

At the same time, according to Dr. Collin Koh Swee Lean, a research fellow at S. Rajaratnam school of International Studies in Singapore, the two Primary goals of the exercises are to show that Russia and China can work together as well as pursue some individual strategic interests in the region.

"The major overt purpose [of the drills] is to showcase the spirit of multilateralism, especially, when couched under the BRICS narrative (sans [except] Brazil and India.) However, the underlying motivations could primarily be seen through both Chinese and Russian lenses. They converge on not only demonstrating world multipolarity which is a common point both Beijing and Moscow have been championing for over the past decades, to contest what both see as American world hegemony and unilateralism," the expert pointed out.

He stressed that Russia's and China's ambitions went beyond the African continent and extended into the Indian Ocean region, where Moscow was a new player.

"However, individually, China and Russia harbor [their] own ambitions behind this exercise. Both have key strategic interests in the Indian Ocean, not least the African continent. Only difference is that China has a much established diplomatic and economic presence there, whereas Russia is a recent newcomer to this game (especially after a recent event in which Moscow hosted African leaders and coinciding with that, Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers having landed in South Africa and made a symbolic patrol sortie over the Indian Ocean waters)," he concluded.

DRILLS AS INDICATOR OF GROWING INFLUENCE IN THE REGION

Professor Shen Dingli of Fudan University told Sputnik that the trilateral exercises aimed to "strengthen military cooperation within the non-western countries, especially within the BRICS group" and clearly testified to China and Russia's growing influence in the region.

"Russia and China are major countries in the world and they share their common interests to stabilize the world and not to see the world to be dominated and destabilized by a certain superpower... Such Russia and China security cooperation could help balance regional and global security, and such move may challenge the Western countries' attempt to undermine other's interest and dominate the world," the expert said.

Dingli noted that this first exercise might lead to deeper military cooperation between the three countries in the future.

"It is quite likely. As long as they find common interests and responsibilities to do so, they are likely to continue such cooperation," he stated.

Collin Koh Swee Lean stressed that this new level of cooperation between the three BRICS partners could raise concerns among western powers over the positions China and Russia were aiming to take in this strategically important African region.

"There could be concerns, of course, especially given the geostrategic importance of South Africa. But that view has to be conditioned in line with realities. Russia has yet to be a more serious military player in the Indian Ocean region. So is China at this point, though Beijing's military presence in the Indian Ocean may expand in future," the expert said.

SOUTH AFRICA RELUCTANT TO ENGAGE IN DEEPER MILITARY COOPERATION

Collin Koh Swee Lean believed that, despite the possibility of such exercises being repeated in the future, it was premature to talk about the development of close trilateral military cooperation because the South African defense industry was weak over lack of funding.

"China and Russia may be enthusiastic about it, but I'm not too sanguine that South Africa necessarily shares that level of enthusiasm. Of course, the one major advantage or leverage South Africa has is sheer geographical position. But besides that, one has yet to see South Africa pull its weight in the region. It's got a host of domestic issues to deal with, and not to mention that in a military cooperation setup with China and Russia, South Africa is decidedly a much weaker partner. Consider that the South African National Defense Forces is now experiencing severe capacity shortfalls and growing obsolescence in its capabilities, for which there isn't enough money to recapitalize. Even maintaining existing assets has been a problem," the expert pointed out.

According to Koh Swee Lean, it is likely that Russia, China and South Africa will continue military cooperation and joint drills, but it will be limited by the latter's unwillingness to become sucked into "great power dynamics."