The Chinese government sent military equipment to Somalia on March 18, 2022 in efforts to strengthen the Somali military’s campaign against the Al-Shabaab militant group. According to Lucas Webber of Militant Wire, the military supplies included vehicles such as ambulances, armored personnel carriers, landmine detectors, and water trucks .
Al-Shabaab quickly condemned China’s military aid package to Somalia. They released a critical statement on the Jihadist group’s official Shahada News Agency listing off their grievances against China.
Al-Shabaab referenced a recent remark that US AFRICOM commander Stephen Townsend made about China aiming to build more military bases in Africa. The militant group believes that China is unjustly expanding its military footprint in Africa. On top of that, Al-Shabaab is also accusing China of expanding its geo-economic influence in Africa through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for the purposes of acquiring natural resources.
The Al-Shabaab release highlighted that the arms shipment arrived a few days after an Al-Shabaab militant attacked a Chinese national in Kenya in early March. In the same publication, Al-Shabaab declared China an enemy for allegedly carrying out a “genocide” against the Uyghurs in East Turkistan.
Al-Shabaab does have a track record of attacking Chinese nationals in countries such as Kenya and Somalia. The recent surge in Al-Shabaab attacks against Chinese nationals in Kenya and other parts of East Africa may be a harbinger of trouble to come for China. The increased activity of BRI projects in East Africa and the Chinese deployment of military aid will make China more vulnerable to Al-Shabaab and other militant attacks, all who view China’s ventures as expansionary gestures on their territory.
Because of China’s heavy-handed “Sinicization” policies towards the Uyghurs, several Sunni militant Islamist groups have started to oppose China’s actions. This may tempt the US to tap into Jihadist networks, something it has done repeatedly in the past. Just look at what the CIA has done in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, and Syria. With a depraved foreign policy class at the helm, the US always runs a good chance of tapping into these Islamist networks for the sake of extracting short-term geopolitical benefits against rival powers without any regard to the long-term consequences of such actions i.e. blowback.
Countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States have designated Al-Shabaab as a terrorist organization.
Back to China. It’s now entering the realm of great power politics. As it grows more powerful, it will begin to attract enemies such as Islamic militants and the obvious peer competitors in the US.
If it can learn anything from the US experience, China should avoid nation-building and fantastical foreign policy adventures abroad. These types of ventures destroy great civilizations.