US Senate Armed Services Committee was told China’s newly completed naval pier in Djibouti would accommodate an aircraft carrier
China’s peacekeeping deployments in Africa perceived as possible excuse to build up military bases in Africa, says analyst
With a population of under 1 million, Djibouti on the Horn of Africa is one of the smallest countries on the continent.
But what it lacks in size, it makes up for with its strategic location, overlooking the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a choke point between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
It is that location that has made it a hub for foreign militaries. Before 2017, the United States, France, Japan and Italy had established bases for their armed forces in the country. Then China arrived, setting up what it described as a logistics facility for resupplying Chinese vessels on peacekeeping and humanitarian missions
That facility houses between 1,000 and 2,000 Chinese navy personnel, according to various reports.
About 12km away, the US’ Camp Lemonnier military base houses 3,400 personnel.
Analysts say that while the US has always welcomed China’s support for UN peacekeeping operations and anti-piracy efforts in Africa, it is concerned China plans to expand its rights to set up bases, using them to extend its military reach and grow arms sales to African countries.
Luke Patey, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, said whether in Africa or the Arctic, the US did not want to see a challenger upset its dominant global military presence.
“Chinese participating in peacekeeping missions may not turn too many heads at the Pentagon, but China’s Djibouti base has military capabilities that extend far beyond the logistical needs of any peace or humanitarian mission,” Patey said.
US Army General Stephen Townsend, leader of US Africa Command, told the US Senate Armed Services Committee on April 20 that China “continues to expand their base in Djibouti into a platform to project power across the continent and its waters – completing a large naval pier this year”.
He said the recently completed pier at the Chinese naval base in Djibouti was large enough to support an aircraft carrier.