Updated December 6th, 2021 at 11:57 IST

China vying to set up military base on Africa's Atlantic coast reveals US Intel

Beijing’s military has strategically taken its belt and road (B&R) project route all the way to Africa in course of US military presence drawing down.

Reported by: Zaini Majeed
Image: AP/Maxar Technologies | Image:self

Approximately thousands of miles from its routine operational military bases in the Indo-Pacific, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) intends to establish its first-ever permanent military base underground the Atlantic Ocean in the Central African country of Equatorial Guinea, classified American intelligence reports have found, outlining details of its secret findings, reported WSJ. China has also been in discussion with Tanzania for the establishment of its first naval base in the far opposite East Coast to the United States to expand its military might in the Horn of Africa, sparking security threat concerns for the US Navy and Pentagon. 

China's overseas military base in the African nation, if granted permission, will be second to a $590 million facility in Djibouti that gives the Chinese people’s Liberation Army strategic access in the Gulf of Aden and Suez Canal. Chinese naval base on Africa’s Atlantic coast ‘concerns me greatly’, the top commander of US Africa Command (AFRICOM), General Stephen Townsend had earlier said in an interview with The Associated Press, adding that the suspected massive Chinese navy port will capable of hosting submarines or aircraft carriers on Africa's western coast giving the communist regime’s military an upper edge. 

Credit: AP

Beijing’s ‘debt-trap diplomacy,’ Africa peace-keeping missions efforts - a way to bolster military presence

China has approached several African nations stretching across Mauritania to the south of Namibia, with the intent of establishing naval facilities to base warships in both the Atlantic and Pacific. It set up the first military base less than 10 miles from Camp Lemonnier,  the largest US defence base in Africa, and until now, was the only strategically located overseas military facility that hosted aircraft carriers.

Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh may have fallen victim to Beijing’s ‘debt-trap diplomacy,’ the think tanks worry, and Townsend believes that the ‘Chinese base [in Djibouti] is “turning into a platform to project power across the continent and its waters.” 

But China hasn’t stopped. It has been persistently looking for other basing opportunities [around Africa] for a “strategic strongpoint” for conducting anti-piracy operations in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the vital, and strategic 18 miles wide at its narrowest chokepoint Bab-el-Mandeb or “Gate of Tears,” a strait between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, and Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa. US, French, and Japanese military forces have scrambled to bolster their presence to guard the strategic route for global oil, petroleum, and natural gas shipment after China’s establishment of a naval base in the East African nation of Djibouti in 2017, which the US believes is intended to grow military footprint. 

Credit: US Energy Information Administration

“Their first overseas military base, their only one, is in Africa, and they have just expanded that by adding a significant pier that can support even their aircraft carriers in the future,” AFRICOM’s Gen. Stephen Townsend had warned in an AP interview. He then cautioned, around the continent they [Chinese] are looking for other basing opportunities.”

Most exports of petroleum and natural gas from the Persian Gulf that transit the Suez Canal or the SUMED Pipeline pass through both the Bab el-Mandeb and the Strait of Hormuz, according to the US Energy Information Administration. These sea lanes are extremely critical to global energy security, and any maritime threat in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait will divert the globe’s tanker traffic from two 2-mile-wide channels around the tip of Africa, where now the Chinese have established their first naval base. Djibouti’s geographic location is also pivotal for Beijing due to its close proximity to key nations in both Africa and Asia.

US$590-million Doraleh Multipurpose Port is only seven kilometres from Camp Lemonnier, adjacent to Djibouti International Free Trade Zone, and was set up on the pretence of ramping up so-called Chinese peacekeeping efforts, anti-piracy missions, and maintaining peace and stability in Africa. 

Credit: Twitter/Camp_Lemonnier

China takes belt and road (B&R) project route all the way to Africa

While global analysts say that China’s military presence in Africa will step up security and intelligence expertise, it just goes to show how Beijing’s military has strategically taken its belt and road (B&R) project route all the way to Africa in course of the United States military presence drawing down across the continent.

And now, China eyes on the Atlantic Ocean along Africa's west coast to build a naval facility capable of hosting both submarines and aircraft carriers. This comes as Biden pledged to maintain a strong US military presence in the Indo-Pacific to counter the Chinese aggression, but the Chinese military is strategically expanding into Africa, South American, and the Middle East “outmanoeuvring the US in countries in Africa," explains US AFRICOM’s Gen. Townsend. 

"They're looking for a place where they can rearm and repair warships. That becomes militarily useful in conflict," Townsend reportedly explained in the AP interview. "They're a long way toward establishing that in Djibouti. Now they're casting their gaze to the Atlantic coast and wanting to get such a base there.”

Then-Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend talks with an Iraqi officer during a tour north of Baghdad. Credit: AP

In Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, China’s military presence is constantly expanding. “They have arms and munitions for sure. They have armoured combat vehicles. We think they will soon be basing helicopters there to potentially include attack helicopters," says US General Stephen Townsend.

Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Communist Party kicked off a week-long China-Africa Peace and Security Forum with African defence ministers and military chiefs to conduct a dialogue on cooperation, peace, and security funding in the horn of Africa. In reality, China may only be expanding its military buildup on a much larger scale, as per Townsend’s posture statement to the US House Armed Services Committee. "Port projects, economic endeavours, infrastructure, and their agreements and contracts will lead to greater access in the future. They are hedging their bets and making big bets on Africa,” he further warned in the interview.

Image: AP/Maxar Technologies 


Published December 6th, 2021 at 11:57 IST

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