The senior US general for Africa warns that a growing threat from China could come not only from Pacific waters, but also from the Atlantic.
U.S. General Stephen Townsend, in an interview with The Associated Press, said Beijing is seeking to establish a large naval port capable of accommodating submarines or aircraft carriers on the west coast of Africa. Townsend said China has approached countries stretching from Mauritania to southern Namibia, with the intention of establishing a naval installation. If realized, this prospect would allow China to found warships in its expanding navy in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
“They are looking for a place where they can rearm and repair the warships. It becomes militarily useful in times of conflict, ”said Townsend, who heads US Africa Command. “They are far from establishing it in Djibouti. Now they are looking at the Atlantic coast and want to set up such a base there. “
Townsend’s warnings come as the Pentagon shifts its focus from the counterterrorism wars of the past two decades to the Indo-Pacific region and threats from opposing major powers like China and Russia. The Biden administration views China’s economic influence and rapidly expanding military might as America’s main long-term security challenge.
U.S. military commanders around the world, including many who stand to lose troops and resources to support growth in the Pacific, warn that China’s growing assertiveness is not just happening in Asia. And they argue that Beijing is aggressively asserting its economic influence over countries in Africa, South America and the Middle East, and pursuing bases and settlements there.
“The Chinese are beating the United States in some African countries,” Townsend said. “Port projects, economic efforts, infrastructure and their agreements and contracts will lead to better access in the future. They hedge their bets and make big bets on Africa. “
China’s first overseas naval base was built years ago in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa and is steadily increasing its capacity. Townsend said as many as 2,000 military personnel are at the base, including hundreds of Marines who provide security there.
“They have guns and ammunition for sure. They have armored fighting vehicles. We think they’ll be installing helicopters there soon to potentially include attack helicopters, ”Townsend said.
For a while, many believed that China was working to establish a naval base in Tanzania, a country on the eastern coast of Africa, which has long had strong military ties with Beijing. But Townsend said it looks like there hasn’t been a decision on it yet.
He said that although China is working hard to secure a base in Tanzania, it is not where he is most concerned.
“It’s on the Indian Ocean side,” he said. “I want it to be in Tanzania rather than on the Atlantic coast. The Atlantic coast is of great concern to me, ”he said, noting the relatively shorter distance between the west coast of Africa and the United States in nautical miles, a base on the north Atlantic coast of Africa. could be much closer to the United States than the military installations in China are on America’s west coast.
Specifically, other US officials say the Chinese are looking for locations for a port in the Gulf of Guinea.
The Defense Ministry’s 2020 report on China’s military might, said China has likely considered adding military facilities to support its naval, air and ground forces in Angola, among others. And he noted that the large amount of oil and liquefied natural gas imported from Africa and the Middle East, make these regions a high priority for China over the next 15 years.
Henry Tugendhat, senior policy analyst at the US Institute of Peace, said China has many economic interests on the west coast of Africa, including fishing and oil. China has also contributed to the financing and construction of a large commercial port in Cameroon.
He said any effort by Beijing to secure a naval port on the Atlantic coast would be an expansion of China’s military presence. But the desire for access to the ocean, he said, may primarily be economic gain rather than military capabilities.
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Townsend and other regional military commanders raised concerns about China during recent congressional hearings. He, along with Admiral Craig Faller, head of US Southern Command, and General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, fight to retain their military forces, planes and surveillance as the Pentagon continues. to review the transition to a great power. competition.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is conducting a Global Posture Review to determine whether U.S. military might is positioned where it needs to be, and in sufficient numbers, around the world to better maintain global dominance. This review is expected to be completed at the end of the summer.