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Discussion paper: China’s military education and Commonwealth countries

Radomir Tylecote and Henri Rossano, November 2021

With Barbados to become a republic and remove the Queen as head of state – a decision which, according to some sources, appears to have been influenced by China – interest in the extent and impacts of China’s diplomatic reach in Commonwealth countries is growing.

This discussion paper by Dr Radomir Tylecote and Henri Rossano describes China’s expanding military training programmes for developing Commonwealth countries.

The paper examines how Beijing combines military training with ideological education to promote authoritarian governance, especially its ‘Party-Army model’ with the army subordinate to the ruling party. As leading researchers acknowledge, this is liable to be ‘antithetical [to] multiparty democratic systems’.

Commonwealth officers are undergoing military training in China in growing numbers.

This briefing goes on to highlight:

Growing military training cooperation with Commonwealth countries

‘China has growing interests in the Commonwealth and military and other security activities are an increasingly important component of China’s engagement. These efforts include training programmes aimed at future military and political leaders.

The authors provide emerging examples, including from Barbados, Cameroon, Namibia, South Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania, Guyana, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Kenya.

‘An opportunity now exists for the UK and allies, including Commonwealth countries, to better understand and map these efforts. The UK should also consider how best to apply and rejuvenate shared Commonwealth military aid and education programmes.’

Military training institutions

China’s foreign military training should be understood in the context of Beijing’s growing diplomatic programmes for foreign elites in general, including building ‘politico-military schools’.

‘China has trained thousands of officers at middle and senior levels, as well as government officials, from over 100 countries over recent decades …’, and numbers are rising.

Training approaches

‘China says its training programmes are intended to encourage friendly attitudes towards China and its forces among foreign officers…’

Some visiting officers previously interviewed have ‘expressed admiration for China and its development, sometimes criticising the West’s attitude towards China, especially if this attitude is also seen to apply to their own countries.’

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