Defence ties between Algiers and Beijing are as old as the Algerian state itself, with China being a major supporter of the National Liberation Front which fought against the French presence in the 1960s.
Indeed, Mao’s Communist Party was the first non-Arab nation to recognize the movement as the legitimate government of Algeria, to which it logically provided weapons, training and money. But while China did continue to support the North African country, the relationship was eclipsed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Major arms contracts with the Asian country began in the twilight years of the Communist leader, focusing mainly on high-tech products such as radars and ships. The defence relationship really took off again in the 2010s, as the Algerian government struggled with the Hirak protests and the need to rearm due to its long-standing rivalry with Morocco. This resulted in major acquisitions of missiles of all kinds, artillery systems, radars and a Type 56 corvette – delivered in April 2023.
Apparently, the Algerian Armed Forces seem satisfied with the latter, since, during a week-long visit to China in November, Algerian Army Chief, General Saïd Chanegriha, expressed his interest in Beijing’s ships and drones. According to statements from the Algerian Ministry of Defence, the General-in-Chief toured some PLA military units, the CSTC shipyard in Shanghai as well as the headquarters of CATIC AFIC Global in Beijing. CATIC showed him mainly fire-fighting and search-and-rescue aircraft, but it was probably drones that Chanegriha was most interested.
The Algerian army already purchased five CH-3 and 5 CH-4A “Rainbow” systems in 2017, notably to monitor its border and combat Islamist movements in the South. What’s more, even though Algiers’ military budget is twice as large as Morocco’s ($22bn/$12bn in 2022), Rabat can now count on general support from the United States, as well as weapons and technology transfers from Israel since the Abraham Agreement in 2020. All the more since both countries support Morocco’s claim to the Western Sahara, at the heart of a possible military confrontation between the two North African powers.
Algiers, which may find it difficult to meet its supply needs from its traditional Russian partner due to the war in Ukraine, is therefore in urgent need of a new, more technology-intensive foreign military industrial base to equip itself. With China rapidly modernising its weapons systems and keen to increase its military footprint and sales, it is highly likely that new defence contracts will soon be signed between the two nations. This could lead to another interesting development: Algeria could become a member of the BRICS group, something that both Putin and Xi support in the hope of reviving the “anti-imperialist axis” of the past.
Written by ADIT – The Bulletin and republished with permission.