Having made itself odious by harassing its maritime neighbors in and around the South China Sea, as Liberty Nation has reported, China is projecting its influence more prominently in other places around the world, most recently in the Red Sea. China has developed a naval base and commercial marine port complex in Djibouti. Located adjacent to the Mab al-Mandab Strait linking the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea on the Horn of Africa, Djibouti is in a particularly strategic geographic position.
For decades, the United States Navy (USN) enjoyed its reputation as the largest and most prominent “blue-water” naval force. The USN can project sea power globally with its 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, each with about 85-90 different operational aircraft. However, the USN may be getting company in the Middle East.
As Sam LaGrone explains in his U.S. Naval Institute USNI News article, the Chinese port complex was started in 2017 as a commercial facility and to support the People’s Liberation Army’s “anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia.” Subsequently, the Chinese port has become much more.
Delivering his “Posture Statement” before the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), General Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM), explained the geopolitical significance of Chinese presence in Djibouti.
He said that China is expanding its influence in Africa rapidly and has established 52 embassies throughout Africa – three more than the U.S.
Townsend went on to explain the People’s Republic of China continues to expand their base in Djibouti into a platform to project power across the continent and its water, completing a large naval pier this year. He explained:
“The base is only 12 kilometers from our 3,400 DoD personnel at Camp Lemonnier, the Department’s primary forward operating location in the USAFRICOM AOR [Area of Responsibility]. Beijing seeks to open additional bases, tying their commercial seaport investments in East, West, and Southern Africa closely with involvement by Chinese military forces in order to further their geo-strategic interests.”
There is nothing on the high seas that says “geo-strategic interests” like an aircraft carrier at your port. The Center for Strategic Studies’ China Power study project reports that “China is making steady progress in constructing what is believed to be its third aircraft carrier.” Unlike USN aircraft carriers, the Chinese carriers are conventionally powered with less efficient steam turbines. Eventually, the Chinese plan a carrier fleet of six ships.
H.I. Sutton, writing in Forbes, told readers that 2020 satellite images showed that the Chinese were expanding its overseas naval base in Djibouti. More to the point, Sutton explains, “Major work on a 1,120-foot pier appears to have been finished late last year. This is just long enough to accommodate China’s new aircraft carriers, assault carriers, or other large warships.” Additionally, the pier could accommodate four Chinese nuclear-powered submarines.
Emboldened by its success in carrying out operations off its coastline and believing in its aspirational global leadership destiny, China is making power projection a priority. China is fastening its economic objectives to its military expansion, and in places like Africa, that could be a problem for the United States.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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