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DJIBOUTI to give Beijing its port, become 25th province of China

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‘Significant’ consequences if China takes key port in Djibouti: U.S. general

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top U.S. general for Africa told lawmakers on Tuesday that the military could face “significant” consequences should China take a key port in Djibouti, as Beijing becomes increasingly muscular in Africa in an effort to expand its influence.

Last month, Djibouti ended its contract with Dubai’s DP World, one of the world’s biggest port operators, to run the Doraleh Container Terminal, citing failure to resolve a dispute that began in 2012.

DP World called the move an illegal seizure of the terminal and said it had begun new arbitration proceedings before the London Court of International Arbitration.

During a U.S. congressional hearing on Tuesday, which was dominated by concerns about China’s role in Africa, lawmakers said they had seen reports that Djibouti seized control of the port to give it to China as a gift.

China has already built a military base in Djibouti, just miles from a critical U.S. military base.

“If this was an illegal seizure of that port, what is to say that government wouldn’t illegally terminate our lease before its term is up,” said Representative Bradley Byrne, a Republican.

In a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Byrne said he was concerned about China’s influence in Djibouti and the impact it would have on U.S. military and intelligence assets.

Djibouti is strategically located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal.

Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, the top U.S. military commander overseeing troops in Africa, said that if China placed restrictions on the port’s use, it could affect resupplying the U.S. base in Djibouti and the ability of Navy ships to refuel there.

“If the Chinese took over that port, then the consequences could be significant,” Waldhauser said during the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee hearing.

Djibouti hosts a U.S. military base that is home to about 4,000 personnel, including special operations forces, and is a launch pad for operations in Yemen and Somalia.

“There are some indications of (China) looking for additional facilities, specifically on the eastern coast … So Djibouti happens to be the first – there will be more,” Waldhauser said.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he did not know anything about the port situation, but China’s cooperation with Africa was neither aimed at any third party nor aimed at excluding anyone.

“We hope that the U.S. side can objectively and fairly view China’s development and China-Africa cooperation,” he told a daily news briefing.

SOFT POWER

China has sought to be visible in Africa, including through high-profile investment in public infrastructure projects, as it deepens its trade ties.

Waldhauser said that the United States would be unable to match the scale of that investment throughout the continent, noting Beijing’s construction of shopping malls, government buildings and even soccer stadiums.

“We’ll never outspend the Chinese in (Africa),” Waldhauser said, noting some of the Chinese investments in Djibouti.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday the United States will give more than $533 million in humanitarian aid for victims of conflicts and drought in Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and the West and Central African countries bordering Lake Chad.

But Tillerson contrasted the United States’ work on the African continent, which he said promoted “sustainable growth,” with that of China, which recently pledged $124 billion for its Silk Road plan to expand links between Asia, Africa, Europe and other places.

Tillerson said China’s investment in Africa “encouraged dependency.”

This year, the U.S. military put countering China, along with Russia, at the center of a new national defense strategy.

 

The Pentagon said China was a part of “revisionist powers” that “seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models.”

Waldhauser said he was in the process of rewriting U.S. military strategy in the region with China in mind.

“China has been on the African continent for quite some time, but we as a combatant command have not dealt with it in terms of a strategic interest,” Waldhauser said.

“We are taking baby steps in that regard,” he added.

Why China’s First Overseas Military Base in Djibouti is ‘Only the Beginning’

SPUTNIK – The installation of the Chinese military base in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, is only the beginning, Sputnik contributor Andrei Kots believes, explaining why Beijing’s first overseas base is by no means the country’s last military installation abroad.

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency
© REUTERS/ U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, MISSILE DEFENSE AGENCY/HANDOUT

China has dispatched a military contingent to its first overseas military base in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa; according to Sputnik contributor Andrei Kots, there are signs indicating that the Djibouti base won’t be Beijing’s only military installation abroad.Interestingly enough, following the announced dispatch a Chinese state-owned media outlet, Xinhua, highlighted that the base “is meant for supply missions, is not a military outpost built to boost the country’s military presence and play deterrent roles in the region.”

“The Djibouti base has nothing to do with an arms race or military expansion, and China has no intention of turning the logistics center into a military foothold,” the media outlet pointed out.

Still, according to Kots, Beijing’s interest in the tiny state located in the Horn of Africa is quite understandable.

“The western frontier of Djibouti is located in the narrowest part of the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait which connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It is of great economic and strategic importance. All the European ships which enter the Red Sea from the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal and head toward East and South Asia, as well as Australia, pass through the 26-kilometer-wide bottle neck,” Kots underscored.

“In addition, the lion’s share of oil tankers from Saudi Arabia is going through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait,” he added.Thus it’s hardly surprising that the US, Germany, Italy and Spain have their military presence in this region.

According to the editor-in-chief of the National Defense magazine, Igor Korotchenko, the geostrategic importance of Djibouti is well known to all.

However, there is yet another reason for China’s beefing up its presence in the region.

“China has actively invested in African countries over the past 20 years and regards the continent as the main source for its further industrial and economic development,” Korotchenko told Sputnik. “The People’s Republic of China (PRC) needs a military base in Djibouti to protect its interests [in the region].”

“And, finally, the Celestial Empire’s permanent military presence in Africa will allow it to exert great influence on [African] states which are of economic interest to the PRC,” he added.

An aerial view of Djibouti
© AFP 2018/ JACQUES DEMARTHON
An aerial view of Djibouti

Indeed, by the beginning of 2017, the total volume of Chinese investments in African states has reached a trillion dollars, Kots remarked, adding that Beijing implements and finances dozens of infrastructural projects across the continent, including the East African Railway.

However, that’s half the story, according to the Russian journalist.

It seems that China is mulling over the opportunity to expand its overseas presence in the future, Kots believes.

To illustrate his point, the journalist draws attention to the fact that Beijing has significantly boosted its Navy Forces over the last 10 years.

“Particular attention was paid to the construction of vessels capable of transporting large military contingents with equipment and weapons for long distances. For instance, the newest mobile landing platform MLP 868 Donghaidao and the amphibious transport dock Type 071 Jinggangshan have left for the shores of Djibouti earlier this week,” he pointed out.

Kots reminded his readers that besides China only the United States possesses mobile landing platform (MLP) vessels.”The Pentagon classifies MLP ships as expeditionary mobile bases designed to provide large-scale overseas amphibious operations,” the journalist remarked, adding that Donghaidao can be regarded as an autonomous naval unit.

Speaking to Sputnik, Russian military analyst Vasily Kashin stressed that China’s amphibious ships are by no means inferior to those of the US.

“China is increasingly focusing on the use of its Armed Forces for what they call the ‘protection of foreign interests’ which lie far beyond the borders of the PRC. This is mainly Africa and the Middle East,” Kashin noted, adding that the Chinese reportedly plan to increase the number of marines from 20,000 to 100,000.

“The People’s Liberation Army Navy Marine Corps (PLAMC) conducts exercises on a regular basis,” Kashin continued. “Chinese Marines, for example, were deployed to the Gobi Desert, where they trained in new climatic conditions.”

“All of the above indicate that the PRC is creating a powerful expeditionary force,” the Russian military analyst emphasized.

A member of the PLA Navy Task group guards a Chinese PLA Naval submarine berthed in Hong Kong waters 30 April 2004
© AFP 2018/ MIKE CLARKE
A member of the PLA Navy Task group guards a Chinese PLA Naval submarine berthed in Hong Kong waters 30 April 2004

According to Kots, the People’s Liberation Army Navy currently has more than 70 amphibious and military transport ships with most of them capable of operating in the far sea zone.

Given this it is unlikely that China will limit its overseas presence to just one military base in Djibouti, Kots argues.

The Russian journalist assumed that new Chinese support bases and logistic hubs may soon appear in in Tajikistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan to ensure the security of the China-led New Silk Road project.

In addition, some analysts do not exclude the possibility of the creation of new Chinese military bases in the Pacific Ocean, Kots noted, adding that reportedly Beijing has been negotiating this matter with Papua New Guinea since 2014.

“The permanent presence of the PLA [in the region] will allow Beijing to control the lion’s share of the southwestern Pacific and keep an eye on US military bases located there,” the Russian journalist concluded.

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