Best Defense

Bridges to somewhere

I see where China announced a plan to build a big old “friendship” bridge in the west African nation of Mali. China is serious about Africa. Bridges don’t bother me so much. What really worries me is the day when Beijing  starts deploying “private security contractors” to African countries, in part because that might be ...

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Hong Kong, HONG KONG: Chinese President Hu Jintao inspects troops of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) stationed in Hong Kong, 30 June 2007. Hu is on a weekend visit to Hong Kong to oversee the 10th anniversary of the city's return to Chinese rule. AFP PHOTO / POOL (Photo credit should read KIN CHEUNG/AFP/Getty Images)

I see where China announced a plan to build a big old “friendship” bridge in the west African nation of Mali.

China is serious about Africa. Bridges don’t bother me so much. What really worries me is the day when Beijing  starts deploying “private security contractors” to African countries, in part because that might be when the precedents established by the U.S. government in Iraq come back to haunt us. Among other things, Chinese mercenaries are gonna be much cheaper than their American counterparts — and also are likely to be even cozier with their own government back home. Imagine the State Department trying to figure out how to respond when the Beijing government insists, “That’s not a mechanized brigade of the PLA, that’s the Shanghai Double Happiness Security and Friendship Corporation.”  

I am not sure what China is up to in Africa. But I have the nagging thought  that we will figure it out in 15 years and be sorry.

KIN CHEUNG/AFP/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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