Beijing: China`s growing military and security partnerships with African countries pose new challenges to the United States, a long-time security partner in the continent. The Chinese naval base in Djibouti is not the only sign of Chinese military engagement in Africa but eyeing on establishing a new naval base in the Atlantic Ocean.
The top US military commander for Africa warned recently that a growing threat from China may come not just from the waters of the Pacific but from the Atlantic as well. He disclosed Beijing is looking to establish a large navy port capable of hosting submarines or aircraft carriers on Africa`s western coast.
Revealing about the Chinese game plan, General Stephen Townsend, in an interview with The Associated Press, said Beijing has approached countries stretching from Mauritania to the south of Namibia with an intention to establish a naval facility.
If realised, that prospect would enable China to base warships in its expanding Navy in the Atlantic as well as Pacific oceans. “They`re looking for a place where they can rearm and repair warships. That becomes militarily useful in conflict,” said Townsend, who heads the US Africa Command. “They are a long way toward establishing that in Djibouti. Now they are casting their gaze to the Atlantic coast and wanting to get such a base there.”
US military commanders around the globe caution that China`s growing assertiveness is not simply happening in Asia. And they argue that Beijing is aggressively asserting economic influence over countries in Africa, South America and the Middle East and is pursuing bases and footholds there.
“The Chinese are outmanoeuvring the US in select countries in Africa,” said Townsend. “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.” China`s first overseas naval base was built years ago in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa and it is steadily increasing its capacity.
Townsend said as many as 2,000 military personnel are at the base, including hundreds of Marines who handle security there. “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,” said Townsend. According to the latest US Defense Department`s Report 2020 on China`s military power, China has likely considered adding military facilities to support its naval, air and ground forces in Angola, among other locations.
And it noted that a large amount of oil and liquefied natural gas imported from Africa and the Middle East make those regions a high priority for China over the next 15 years. A senior policy analyst with the United States Institute of Peace, Henry Tugendhat said China has a lot of economic interests on Africa`s west coast, including fishing and oil.
China also has helped finance and build a large commercial port in Cameroon. He added that any effort by Beijing to get a naval port on the Atlantic coast would be an expansion of China`s military presence. But the desire for ocean access, he said, may be primarily for economic gain, rather than military capabilities. Gen. Townsend and other regional military commanders laid out their concerns about China during recent US Congressional hearings.
He along with Admiral Craig Faller, Head of US Southern Command and General Frank McKenzie, Head of US Central Command, are battling to retain their military forces, aircraft and surveillance assets as the Pentagon continues to review the shift to great power competition.
The US policymakers are also concerned that China`s involvement in Africa represents a growing threat to the US interest in the continent. The Biden administration views China`s rapidly expanding economic influence and military might as America`s primary long-term security challenge.