Beijing maintains a commercial and military presence in Djibouti and this seems to be making the US military nervous.
This small country also houses the only permanent US military base on the continent.
China’s growing military presence in Africa is viewed in a disturbing way in Washington. Pentagon officials are concerned that the biggest Asian economy is taking advantage of US regional allies.
“They (China) have upped their game, in plain language, and ultimately they are offering things that our partners want, that our partners need,” said the AFRICOM official. “In places, we have concerns we are being out-competed.”
The comments refer to the Chinese expansion in Djibouti, a very small country located on the southern border of the Red Sea, near one of the world’s busiest commercial routes.
This African country is the only one that has a permanent US military base (Camp Lemonnier), which is home to the United States surveillance network and counterterrorism operations in Africa.
Although the country is a paradise for political stability in the region, it has many bases from foreign countries, and Beijing’s growing presence in the country leaves the Pentagon hawks nervous.
In 2017 the People’s Liberation Army of China inaugurated its first overseas base in Djibouti, about 10 km from the North American Camp Lemonnier base.
In the annual report to Congress, the Pentagon warned that China could succeed in Djibouti. Other Chinese bases may be created to establish overseas logistics facilities that further expand and sustain regional and global air operations.
For now, it is the Chinese base in Djibouti that has raised particular concern among US commanders, as a well-equipped facility is located near a critical seaport, of which Lemonnier’s contingent of 4,000 men is heavily dependent.
Last year, AFRICOM commander Gen. Thomas Waldhauser warned Congress that two out of five terminals in the port were already under Chinese control, and now the fear is that China could cut off US access to the port someday.
“It’s no secret that roughly 98% of the logistics support for Djibouti, as well as Somalia and East Africa, come through that port,” Gen. Waldhauser noted. “That port is one of five entities in the overall Djiboutian port. And so, our access there is necessary and required.”
He also told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee that “if the Chinese took over that port, then the consequences could be significant.”