The US alleges that China’s base in Africa is now big enough to host aircraft carriers.
China has completed construction of a pier at its naval base in Djibouti near the entrance to the Red Sea, the top commander of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) claimed when speaking to lawmakers on Tuesday.
The US Africa Commander Army General, Stephen Townsend, said the Chinese naval base is large enough to support a People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) aircraft carrier.
General Townsend told the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) that China also seeks to build a commercial deep-water port and military base options elsewhere in Africa.
“Their first overseas military base, their only one, is in Africa, and they have just expanded that by adding a significant pier that can even support their aircraft carriers in the future,” Townsend told the HASC.
“Around the continent they are looking for other basing opportunities,” he added.
The Djibouti base was inaugurated in 2017 to help Chinese anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden. However, it has expanded to support various warships and Chinese domestically-designed Type 002 aircraft carriers due to its new large deck.
The near 340-metre-long pier is “just long enough to accommodate China’s new aircraft carriers, assault carriers or other large warships. It could easily accommodate four of China’s nuclear-powered attack submarines if required,” according to one analyst.
Recent satellite images of #China's support & logistics base in #Djibouti show how development work has carried on at the site through #Covid19 with new #PLAN modifications taking shape in the horn of #Africa https://t.co/mdGsDJDRY2 pic.twitter.com/2yFlpXFJBs— d-atis☠️ (@detresfa_) May 9, 2020
Recent satellite images showed that the PLA has sped up work to expand the base during the pandemic.
However, the base is turning into a “platform to project power across the continent and its waters,” Townsend claimed.
He added that China also uses “debt traps” via unfavourable loans against African nations to secure Beijing’s interests within the continent.
“They are literally everywhere on the continent.”
But while China has expanded only its base in Djibouti, the US maintains countless AFRICOM bases on the continent.
A Pentagon map shows the US has 29 military bases across Africa.
So why has such a tiny country become so attractive for global military powers?
Djibouti is located on the Horn of Africa and close to the Bab el Mandeb, the entrance to the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden.
Being near a major chokepoint for one of the world’s most important commercial maritime routes, which passes through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea, makes it a vital node in the global trade of oil and goods.
Its proximity to countries in the Middle East and Africa that regularly experience international interventions and domestic conflict make it a strategic location for setting up bases.
It is unsurprising then that Djibouti, one of the most stable countries in the region, hosts an extensive array of military powers hardly seen anywhere else in the world.
The US, France, Italy, Spain, Japan - and most recently China and Saudi Arabia - have military bases across the 23,000 square km-sized country.
They also contribute to the country’s economy. For example, the US pays $63 million a year on a 10-year lease for using its territory, while China pays $20 million per year.
Djibouti is home to the most extensive and permanent US military base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier, where special forces, fighter planes, and helicopters are stationed.
Camp Lemonnier is a significant base for US drone operations in Somalia and Yemen, and is also home to AFRICOM.