English News

  • youtube
  • facebook
  • twitter

China’s search for naval foothold in the Atlantic worries US

Chinese vessel in Djibouti port (Pic. Courtesy Twitter/@XHNews)

After Djibouti, an assertive China is set to deepen its military foothold in Africa with the Equatorial Guinea firmly on its radar.

Located on Africa’s west coast near the Gulf of Guinea, the impoverished nation offers China a good strategic opening in the Atlantic. Chinese naval presence closer in the waters of the Atlantic has naturally alarmed the United States, which is wary of  Beijing’s heft closer to its shores.

The US worries have grown because of its military focus on the Indo-Pacific, leaving vast swathes of ocean-space in the Atlantic unguarded.

Unsurprisingly the US establishment has responded sharply to the Chinese move, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal earlier this month.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters that the Joe Biden administration has made it plain to Equatorial Guinea  that "certain potential steps involving [China] and [its] activities there would raise national security concerns for us."

Kirby added that Beijing "continued to try to coerce behaviour out of many African nations and try to intimidate, use economic leverage to seek their own national security goals there."

From a Chinese perspective,  a drive to establish military bases overseas is a natural outcome of the projects that Beijing wants to execute abroad under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  That means that Chinese have to provide a security umbrella to the personnel that it sends overseas.

Docking with the BRI, the Chinese have revised its National Defence Law last January. The law specifies that Beijing will deploy the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to "protect the security of overseas Chinese citizens, organizations, institutions and facilities."  

Beijing a major trading nation, China is also looking to protect sea lanes through which its merchant ships, including oil tankers pass.

Having set its eyes on Equatorial Guinea, Chinese President Xi Jinping, had called Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in October 2020 to commemorated the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. During the conversation Xi had proposed deeper "practical collaboration under the Belt and Road Initiative and within the framework of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation."

It is not inconceivable that following Djibouti and possibly Equatorial Guinea, China maybe looking for other bases in Africa. Other potential countries where China could sink anchor are Kenya, the Seychelles, Tanzania, Angola, according to an annual  report on China released  by the US Department of Defence.

"Whether or not it builds such new installations in the short term, Beijing's consolidation of a pan-African security architecture will undoubtedly lead to their establishment in the long term," says Michael Tanchum, an associate senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, in a recently published paper.

"In such circumstances, the continent of Africa itself would serve a forward-base for Beijing to project power directly towards North America and Europe," he wrote.

Also Read: China planning military bases in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Seychelles, reveals US report