Editor’s Note: This article is part of our Civil Affairs Association and Divergent Options Writing Contest which took place from April 7, 2020 to July 7, 2020. More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.
Major Thomas G. Pledger is a U.S. Army National Guard Infantry Officer and visiting military analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Military and Political Power. Tom has deployed to multiple combat zones supporting both conventional and special operations forces. He has been selected to the Secretary of Defense’s Strategic Thinkers Program and will be attending Johns Hopkins Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Tom has been a guest lecturer at the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute. His current academic and professional research is focused on network targeting, stability operations, and unconventional/gray zone warfare. Tom holds a Master in Public Service and Administration from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, a Master of Humanities in Organizational Dynamics, Group Think, and Communication from Tiffin University, and three graduate certificates in Advanced International Affairs from Texas A&M University in Intelligence, Counterterrorism, and Defense Policy and Military Affairs. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
Title: Assessment on the 2035 Sino-U.S. Conflict in Africa Below the Level of War
Date Originally Written: July 7, 2020.
Date Originally Published: September 7, 2020.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author believes that China’s male population bulge will cause conflict in Africa.
Summary: The year is 2035 and the world’s major production facilities have shifted from China to Africa. In Africa, Western business interests and the interests of the People’s Republic of China have begun to intersect and interfere with one another. No government wants a conventional conflict where the goods are produced. This interference leads instead to gray-zone operations and information warfare.
Text: The year is 2035 and over the last decade a landmark shift in the location of production and manufacturing facilities of the world occurred. China has suffered a self-inflicted population crisis. The One-Child Policy, established in 1980 and modified in 2016, created a Chinese population with a gender imbalance of 50 million excess males and a rapidly expanding older population bulge. By 2050 the median age in China is expected to be 50 years old. Earlier this century, China recognized this demographic shift and began investing in Africa’s infrastructure to increase control and influence on global production means. China’s implementation of this policy through loan-debt traps to improve local infrastructure was complemented by the permanent movement of Han Chinese from China to Africa. Moving these populations served multiple purposes for China. First, it eased resource demands in China. Second, it increased the Chinese economic and political influence in African countries. Lastly, it allowed China to use Chinese workers instead of African workers, thus using the loans from the loan-debt traps to pay local African Chinese reinvesting these Chinese loans in Chinese workers and Chinese corporations, instead of the local African population or businesses. Once the Chinese populations had moved to the African countries, China rapidly implemented the Chinese Social Credit System in Africa. Chinese communities in Africa remained isolationist. These actions would disenfranchise most local African communities to direct Chinese influence in their countries.
Many international Western corporations, which depended on cheap labor in China, began to recognize this future shift in Chinese demographics around 2025. These corporations’ analysis of the world provided two likely locations for future labor markets, South America and Africa. In South America, those nations with low wages remained politically unstable and unlikely to support Western businesses. Africa was subject to impacts from local or regional Islamists, but governments were supportive of international business opportunities. Africa, in addition to low wages and a large working-age population, also provided many of the raw resources, to include rare earth metals. The major hindrance to expansion in Africa was a lack of stable infrastructure.
Unlikely as it was, Chinese funded infrastructure in Africa would enable Western businesses. The proximity of Western economic interests and Chinese efforts to consolidate political influence and commercial control created a region in which no nation wanted a conventional conflict, but gray-zone and information warfare were dominant.
Complicating the efforts for Western influence operations were those advertising campaigns conducted by private industry occurring at the same time as Western government efforts, creating information fratricide for Western efforts. The Chinese Communist Party-controlled Chinese efforts were unified.
Chinese efforts targeted local infrastructure with cyberattacks to disrupt Western production facilities while simultaneously blaming the disruptions on Western companies’ energy demands. Chinese banking officials pressured local African governments to place undue taxes and administrative hardships on Western corporations, for the possibility of reduced interest rates and small portions of loan forgiveness against the Chinese loans. The use of the social credit system in Africa was challenging to implement. The Chinese built 6G communication systems were largely ignored by the local population, due to concerns for personal security, and access to space-based internet. U.S. Government messaging was one of the significant successes of the coordination between the Department of State’s Global Engagement Center, U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), and the forward-deployed Military Information Support Operation (MISO) Teams. Another major win for USCYBERCOM was the deployment of Cyber Operation Liaison Officers (LNO). These LNOs were established to coordinate security, protection, and, if necessary, responses to support U.S. businesses with operations in foreign countries from attacks by any nation. This authority had occurred with the passing of legislation after the 2020 Pandemic, recognizing that many of America’s business interests, supported National Security Interests.
The U.S. government’s efforts were specifically designed and implemented to keep a light military footprint while enabling local security and governance to support the population and allow the local governments to be supported by the local community. U.S. Military training missions increased the capabilities of regional militaries to conduct security operations to improve border security and counter Islamist influence. These light military efforts were coordinated with the Department of State’s State Partnership Program (SPP). The SPP increased the number of involved African countries during the late ’20s from 15 countries to 49 countries. This increase in SPP participation also created a rise in the Sister Cities Program. These two programs created a synergistic relationship creating regular exchanges between U.S. State and local governments and African governments and cities in a concerted effort to increase local government efficiency and effectiveness. The U.S. Agency for International Development worked with the Department of State SPP to bring professional health care organizations and U.S. Army National Guard and U.S. Air National Guard capabilities to improve, build, and train locally sustainable healthcare facilities. Along the Chinese built roads and rails, microloans from Western sources began to flow in, creating local businesses, starting the foundation for local economies. The use of Foreign Military Sales was targeted not on tanks or U.S. weapons and aircraft, but rather engineering equipment. Engineering equipment was selected to enable the local African governments to repair the Chinese built and funded roads and rails.
The unsung hero for coordinating and supporting all these efforts was the Civil Affairs Officers and Bilateral Affairs Officers working diligently to synchronize and present a positive U.S. presence and counter Chinese dominance, enabled by the delegated approval authority. This field-based synchronization authority streamlined staffing times from over a year to months or weeks. These coordinations were with the Country Teams, the National Guard Bureau, the Department of State, non-governmental organizations, MISO Teams, and others.
 Kenneth Pletcher, “One-Child Policy,” Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. , https://www.britannica.com/topic/one-child-policy.
 Feng Wang, Baochang Gu, and Yong Cai, “The End of China’s One-Child Policy,” Brookings Institution https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-end-of-chinas-one-child-policy.
 Karen Zraick, “China Will Feel One-Child Policy’s Effects for Decades, Experts Say,” The New York Times, October 30, 2015 2015.
 JP Casey, “Into Africa: The Us’ Drive for African Rare Earth Minerals,” Verdict Media Limited, https://www.mining-technology.com/features/into-africa-the-us-drive-for-african-rare-earth-minerals.
 “The State Partnership Program (Spp),” National Guard Bue, https://www.nationalguard.mil/Leadership/Joint-Staff/J-5/International-Affairs-Division/State-Partnership-Program.
 “Sister Cities International,” Sister Cities International, https://sistercities.org.