China plans to establish its first military base in Africa, in a country that already hosts a U.S. military facility.
“[China is] going to build a base in Djibouti, so that will be their first military location in Africa,” U.S. Army Gen. David Rodriguez, the commander of U.S. Africa Command, recently told defense reporters.
Djibouti is a small nation positioned at the mouth of the Red Sea. It already “hosts about 4,000 U.S. military service members at Camp Lemonnier, which, according to its website, is a Navy-led establishment that supports and prepares ships, aircraft and other deployments for ‘regional and combatant command requirements,’” International Business Times reports.
The Chinese base will serve as a logistics hub allowing the Asian nation to “extend their reach” into Africa. China is the continent’s largest bi-lateral trading partner, totaling over $200 billion last year, which is up from $10 billion in 2000.
China announced in a white paper in the spring that it intends to expand its naval presence beyond primarily protection of its coastal waters to “open seas protection.”
The U.S. has for decades been the primary naval presence in the Middle East/North Africa region. “U.S. global leadership is predicated heavily on the U.S. role in protecting and to an extent controlling sea lanes of communication,” J. Peter Pham, direction of the Africa Center of the Atlantic Council, told The Hill. “If China establishes itself as a fellow protector of the global commons, then it certainly increases its stature.”
“Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, said the U.S. has to be vigilant in the face of China’s growing ambitions”, according to The Hill.
“Overall, China’s presence in Africa is certainly something we need to pay more attention to, but not just in Djibouti. Africa’s middle class is growing faster than ever, and the continent offers great opportunities for partnerships between both governments and the private sector,” Coons said.
As reported by Western Journalism, China has also been rapidly constructing military bases on artificial islands near international shipping lanes in the South China Sea. Last month, the U.S. sent a naval destroyer near these islands to challenge China’s claim that the artificial island chain is within its territorial borders.