After Selling Fighter Jets, Tanks, Howitzers To Nigeria, China Cements Military Ties With Joint Naval Drills

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy recently concluded a key multilateral joint exercise in Nigeria, underscoring its expanding presence in far seas, particularly in the Atlantic Ocean. 

The exercise, which lasted from May 27 to June 1, featured the participation of Xuchang, a Type 054A frigate in the PLA Navy’s 46th escort task force, as part of the Nigerian Navy’s 68th anniversary celebrations. 

The drills were primarily focused on counter-piracy and counter-oil theft operations, encompassing various training activities such as vessel maneuvering, joint patrols, and communications drills.

Wu Qian, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, emphasized the significance of the PLA Navy’s participation in deepening military exchanges and practical cooperation between China and relevant countries, contributing to the establishment of a high-level China-Africa community with a shared future. 

According to the Chinese media, Xuchang participated in key events, including an opening ceremony, an international maritime conference themed “Promoting the Blue Economy in Africa through International Cooperation on Maritime Security,” and the Regional Maritime Exercise, as highlighted by the PLA Navy. 

The Xuchang, a Type 054A frigate in the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy's 46th escort task force, completes a Nigerian multilateral joint exercise on June 1, 2024. Photo: Screenshot from China Central Television
The Xuchang, a Type 054A frigate in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy’s 46th escort task force, completes a Nigerian multilateral joint exercise on June 1, 2024. Photo: Screenshot from China Central Television

During the live-action phase, the Xuchang collaborated closely with other participating navies, conducting joint search and rescue operations, communications exercises, maneuvering-in-formation drills, and anti-piracy maneuvers. 

Despite facing challenging sea conditions characterized by high waves, the participating forces successfully simulated the boarding of a mock hijacked fishing vessel, showcasing the PLA Navy’s commanding and emergency response capabilities in far sea environments.

The Xuchang also hosted various public engagement activities, including an open-day event, a deck reception, and a friendly sports competition, fostering goodwill among participants.

A total of 14 vessels from four countries, including Brazil and Cameroon, participated in the drills, reflecting the collaborative efforts to enhance maritime security in the region. 

Following the conclusion of the joint exercise, the Xuchang will return to the Gulf of Aden to resume its escort missions. A Chinese military expert, speaking to Global Times, noted Nigeria’s strategic location on the western coast of Africa facing the Atlantic Ocean, highlighting the PLA Navy’s progressive expansion into far seas. 

The expert further emphasized that the exercise not only demonstrated but also honed the far-seas capabilities of the PLA Navy’s modern warships, providing invaluable experiences for future operations.

Meanwhile, the recent naval exercises occur against the backdrop of mounting apprehensions regarding China’s escalating naval activities in the Gulf of Guinea, a critical maritime passage housing crucial shipping routes and oil reservoirs. 

Earlier intelligence assessments from the United States have indicated China’s pursuit of a naval facility at Equatorial Guinea’s Mainland Port of Bata, a development that could present challenges to Western nations in the area. 

US defense officials have voiced concerns over China’s alleged intentions to establish a base on the Atlantic coast to bolster naval operations and provide maintenance services for warships.

China-Nigeria Defense Cooperation

China has been actively working to enhance its military and economic influence in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous and largest economy, by establishing its military industry within the country. 

Notably, China has already exported various weapon systems to Nigeria, including combat systems such as the 105mm Fire Support Vehicle, VT-4 Main Battle Tank, SH-5 105mm self-propelled Artillery System, and SH-2 122mm self-propelled artillery systems in April 2020.

In a subsequent shipment in October 2020, Nigeria received additional hardware, including VT4 main battle tanks, ST1 120mm tank destroyers, SH2 and SH4 self-propelled artillery, and tactical vehicles. 

The Nigerian Army has also been operating 120 NORINCO CS/VP3 Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected Vehicles (MRAP) since they were delivered in 2015.

Of particular significance is the JF-17 fighter jet, a collaborative effort between China and Pakistan. Nigeria became the second customer of this aircraft in 2016 through an order for three units. 

JF-17 (File Image)

China is now exploring the possibility of localizing the production of military equipment in Nigeria, leveraging the country’s abundant natural and human resources to benefit Chinese corporations operating in Nigeria.

In November 2023, the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Cui Jian Chun, expressed China’s interest in fostering collaboration with Nigeria in military operations, economic partnerships, and international engagements. 

Chun noted the potential for building military industries in Nigeria to support local manufacturing of military equipment, highlighting the positive impact on insurgency combat and employment generation within the country. 

Additionally, the Ambassador underscored the existing investments between China and Nigeria in security, education, and economic sectors, noting Nigeria’s promising prospects for economic development.