Friday, November 11, 2016

New Era Dawns in Sino-Sadc Military Ties
November 10, 2016
Opinion & Analysis
Lovemore Chikova in Zhuhai, China
Zimbabwe Herald

The just ended 11th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, also known as Airshow China 2016, was like stepping into the future of military aviation.

The airshow, held in Zhuhai in Guangdong province, presented a window into how China has made a giant step forward in military prowess.

Through the airshow, China also demonstrated how its military cooperation with other countries has been enhanced over the years.

And the presence of Zambian Air Force commander Lieutenant-General Eric Chimese was important for the military cooperation between the SADC region and China.

Leaders in the region agree that security cooperation should be a top priority.

This is reflected in the protocols and agreements the region has on defence, peace and security and the joint military exercises carried out regularly.

What is needed now is to look into how this regional military cooperation can be strengthened.

The lesson from Airshow China 2016 for the region is that with a deliberate effort, SADC member states can strengthen their military cooperation by tapping into what China offers.

At the airshow, the major highlight was when aviation enthusiasts watched in awe as the long-talked about J-20 stealth fighter and J-10B combat jet took to the skies.

The unveiling of these fighter aircrafts, especially the highly sophisticated J-20, demonstrated how China has, overnight, become a force to reckon with on the international scene.

Before the advent of the J-20, military experts divided stealth fighters into two – the West and Russia.

But now the game has been changed and future reference to such aircraft will be in terms of the West, Russia and China.

Experts tout the J-20 as China’s People’s Liberation Army Airforce’s best aircraft and the third stealth fighter jet in the world following the United States’ F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning 11.

In fact, the J-20 attracted so much attention in China that for the past six years, plane spotters could be seen waiting for hours at some airbases, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fighter plane.

Given this background of China’s advancement in military issues, SADC countries can also start considering how they can benefit from the Asian giant.

The region is desperately seeking direct foreign investment and it is clear that the maintenance of peace is one of the prerequisites to attract the investors.

Coincidentally, China is now the biggest foreign investor in the SADC region, with projects worth billions of dollars being undertaken in various countries.

What is needed now is for China and its partners in the region to consider military assistance as part of this economic cooperation.

Through such military cooperation, countries in the region can be able to access sophisticated military hardware from the Asian country on flexible terms.

Countries in the SADC are increasingly facing pressure to spend less on defence and direct more financial resources towards economic and social development.

Efforts on poverty alleviation have ensured competition for demand on resources and many countries have cut their spending on defence in recent years.

Yet, defence and security are important to give confidence to the much sought after foreign investors.

This means that countries in the region should start casting their net wider when sourcing military hardware.

This is where China, with its advanced military equipment technology, comes in handy.

Acquiring such military equipment from the Asian country will be like “killing two birds with one stone”.

Firstly, countries in the SADC can take advantage of the concessions being offered by the Asian economic giant when dealing with African countries.

This will help them strike a balance between their defence budget and other pressing needs because of the favourable terms.

China’s military cooperation with Africa dates back to the days of the liberation struggle when the Asian country assisted liberation movements in the region with weapons, training and moral support.

With the status China has acquired, it is crucial that such cooperation is enhanced and transformed to technological transfer in the military.

If such military cooperation materialises and with a moderate defence budget, any SADC country can strike good deals with China in aviation.

Secondly, acquiring military hardware from the same source will make it easier to enhance SADC countries’ military cooperation under the SADC Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.

Joint military exercises being undertaken in the region would be easier to coordinate because of the uniform equipment at the disposal of the forces.

The SADC Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security’s objectives include promoting regional co-ordination and cooperation on matters related to security and defence.

It is also meant to “consider the development of a collective security capacity and conclude a mutual defence pact to respond to external military threats”.

This protocol is one of the basis upon which armies in SADC countries work together to promote peace in the region and carry out joint operations when necessary.

This is why having the same source of the latest technologies in military hardware is imperative to make some of the provisions of the protocol easier to implement.

Lt-Gen Chimese revealed at Airshow China 2016 that Zambia was already reaping immense benefits from cooperating with China in the military.

He urged fellow SADC countries to follow suit, saying his country’s dealings with China in military aviation had not jeopardised its national budget priorities.

Zambia recently acquired the Chinese-made Hongdu L-15 supersonic light attack and jet trainer from the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).

The L-15 is a third generation fighter and trainer, very much advanced and uses the latest technology.

Lt-Gen Chimese noted during a press conference with journalists from Southern Africa at the airshow that more needs to be done to enhance military cooperation among SADC countries.

“The threats keep evolving,” he said. “Now we have a common threat which is terrorism.

“So, as airforces in the SADC region we cannot just sit back. We need to find a way of contributing towards the efforts of combating terrorism using our airforce platforms.”

Lt-Gen Chimese said AVIC offered his country terms that did not strain its financial resources.

“To strengthen our future military cooperation as a region and with China, I will encourage us to look into the fact that while we are sovereign states, we should also look at common platforms,” he said.

China has already been an active player in the region in terms of military cooperation with individual countries.

But this cooperation needs to be taken a little further to ensure SADC inter-state operability when situations arise.

It is a fact that for militaries from SADC, especially airforces, to go into effective offensive and defensive drills, they would need up-to-date equipment.

It is also clear that future wars will not be fought by single countries, but through alliances.

And this calls for common platforms to enhance easy cooperation.

The SADC airforces have been cooperating mainly in humanitarian exercises such as fighting floods and droughts.

But it is time they also start looking into how they can cooperate when the need arises for offensive or defensive actions.

It is important that peace and security is treated as a prerequisite to development in the SADC region and help enhance efforts to alleviate poverty.

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