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China’s Interest in Africa Raises Concerns of Senate Panel

Chinese sailors watch a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) pull into Djibouti. Xinhua Photo

Africa was the topic for the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, but what China was up to from one end of the continent to the other was its members’ recurring concern during Tuesday’s hearing.

The sharpest congressional focus zeroed in on Beijing’s maritime business interests in Djibouti, the Horn of Africa Nation where China’s positioned its first overseas base. There it is a close neighbor to the United States.

Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the senior officer of Africa Command, told the panel in that crucial country near the Suez Canal, the United States could face significant consequences if China expanded its control of port operations there.

As matters stand now, the Chinese already control two portions of the country’s largest port operations, its own military facility and a container cargo handling facility that provides American, French and other forces spare parts and provisions, he said. “We also use the fuel port quite a bit” for ground and air operations.

Djibouti seized control of a third part of the port from a Dubai corporation that it said was failing to meet its contract. Dubai has protested the move.

But the point raised Tuesday and during last week’s House hearing on Africa Command was Djibouti’s announced intention to bid the third port out for a new contract that the Chinese are expected to make an offer on.

This build-out on the Horn of Africa would be in keeping with recent moves by Beijing in its “One Belt, One Road” economic initiative across Asia into the Middle East to the Mediterranean and the port and maritime business expansion in Pakistan, Waldhauser said.

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, commander, U.S. Africa Command, address Marines and Sailors of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and America Amphibious Ready Group aboard the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS San Diego (LPD-22) on Nov. 29, 2017. US Marine Corps Photo

Earlier this month, Adm. Kurt Tidd, senior officer of Southern Command, noted Chinese maritime interests are also increasing in Central and South America. He specifically mentioned Panama.

In prepared testimony, Waldhauser noted, “U.S. Africa Command views security and access to Djibouti as a top priority. Consequently, we continue to monitor this development to ensure U.S. interests are not deterred.”

The American base houses about 4,000 service members, including special operations forces, and is a staging area for operations across the Red Sea in Yemen and also against the al Shabaab Islamic extremists in Somalia. European and Central Commands also use Camp Lemmonier.

In addition to its opening of a military base that it also uses in regional and international humanitarian, peacekeeping and anti-piracy efforts, China has made large infrastructure investments on the continent, such as hospitals, schools and government offices in Zimbabwe.

The attempt to spread influence extends into the military.

Waldhauser said China’s National Defense University “graduated about 100 foreign students” from Africa. By contrast, he said the United States had about 850 African military graduates from its schools and attend professional military conferences in the last year.

“Very few if any on the challenges on the African continent can be solved by military” means alone, he said in his opening statement. Using a “by-with-and-through” strategy with nations like Chad, Nigeria, Somalia, the goal is “keeping pressure on violent extremist organizations” like al Shabaab, who launched a truck bomb attack in October that killed 500 in Mogadishu, and Boko Haram, operating in a number of countries from a Nigerian border region and infamous for its campaigns of kidnapping, rape and murder.

Although a number of key diplomatic posts have not been filled on the continent, including the ambassadorial position in Somalia, Waldhauser said the command continues to work with State Department officials in Africa. One example he cited is how it “works very closely with the charge’ [who] does a great job” with the Mogadishu government in building up its capacity in delivering services and the capacity of its military to control extremists.

Waldhauser described many of the nations on the continent as being “fragile states” from Libya where Russia is playing a larger role in trying to influence events there to the Sahel, a broad stretch of territory below the Sahara desert from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea where Islamic State-affiliated groups have taken root.

The dangers from violent organizations, such as “ISIS West” in the Sahel, is their professed goal of operating well outside the region — Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria — in spreading terror to advance extremist ideology — into Europe and the United States.

“All the countries on the continent, for the most part, want us” to be there economically, diplomatically and to provide support militarily. “A little [investment of capital and manpower] goes a long way,” Waldhauser said.

As the hearing began, Sen. James Inhofe, (R-Okla.), filling in as chairman, said the committee would defer questions on Waldhauser’s report on the deaths of four special operations soldiers in Niger until after Defense Secretary James Mattis has had time to review.

“We want time for the families to know what happened,” he said.

  • Ed L

    we got a joint base in Djibouti. Now the Chinese have one in Djibouti.

    • DaSaint

      Sure looks that way. More to come…
      More diplomatic and commercial interest needs to complement our military interests on that continent.

    • Hugh

      The French have had a base there for decades.

      • Ed L

        Yeah, we stopped there in 1980 and again to the gulf in 81. As far as I am concern that whole region is a crap hole. The camel spiders can have it.

      • Secundius

        Probably because from 1894 to 1977 “Djibouti” was a French Colony. Before that part of the Ottoman Empire…

    • Mu’ammar Abdur-Rashid

      Yea, they said they’re there for “peace keeping” missions.

  • DaSaint

    The U.S. has never placed much emphasis or interest in the continent of Africa. Now that China is paying significant interest – for it’s resources and ports for sure – NOW the U.S. wants to invest resources and/or pay attention? Hilarious!

    • Stephen

      Remember when we were in competition with the Soviets? We’d build, they’d take. Then we’d switch… Don’t forget the Cuban ‘Mercs’ & the trouble they caused on a small budget… Wait until China offers to step in & save Puerto Rico. They could strike a deal to manage deepwater ports & completely replace the electrical nightmare that a patchwork recovery effort has created. Maybe pay off their debt & possibly become the Hong Kong of the Caribbean. Paper towel, anyone?

      • DaSaint

        That’s an interesting scenario, except that they’re still a US territory. Now if they determine that they want to be independent and take advantage of that opportunity…

        • Stephen

          A territory that the US Congress treats like a foreign entity. Import tariffs & shipping restrictions & the goofiest rules & regulations that no state has to face; including the mechanism that drained Puerto Rico’s economic independence. Left the territory holding the bag for a lot of “investors” that fled the island when Congress changed the rules. Response & recovery from Maria & Irma have been inept, ineffective, inefficient & borderline criminal. We chose to let Haiti flop & twitch & certainly seemed to have followed a similar path in Puerto Rico. USACE is the one bright spot, however, underfunded & inadequate personnel have kept progress slow, resulting in a patchwork approximating the island’s initial power grid. Which was junk & falling apart.

      • Chesapeakeguy

        “….replace the electrical nightmare that a patchwork recovery effort has created.”. Ummm, as opposed to what? The patchwork system that has ALWAYS been their electrical grid? The ‘patchwork’ condition that is much of their infrastructure, and ALWAYS has been? Puerto Rico is in charge of their own island. The way things are there has everything to do with choices THEY made.

        • Stephen

          I use the term, grid, with great trepidation. They need new construction prime movers & an organized power restoration team. They had junk, now they have patchwork junk… I was referring to Congressional interference which overrode Puerto Rico’s choices.

          • Chesapeakeguy

            The government and citizens of PR are not without blame for the state of things there. I lived there for several years. To state or even imply that the government of the USA is trying to keep them in the Stone Age doesn’t wash.

  • Dan O’Brian

    China is simply looking for more land grabbing opportunities and African nations are willing to sell out for hard cash. China can’t feed it’s current population now, and with the rapid desertification of their farmland, they are looking to ‘lock up’ vast farm lands in Africa, thus the huge military and diplomatic push. The island chain building is all a part of this overall plan to ensure the food gets shipped from Africa to China.

    • Hugh

      I’ve heard that the Chinese are also stoking the fires of trouble in South Africa where the black South Africans are persecuting and evicting multi-generational white farmers.

  • discoverer

    US isn’t interested in Africa except to bad mouth China.

    • WhiskyTangoFoxtrot

      yep, we better not hurt the chinese’s feelings eh, or they might suddenly discover a whole new set of ‘nine dash lines’ that cover the whole Pacific ocean, then they’ll start construction of military bases on the Hawaiian chain of islands

  • SFC Steven M Barry USA RET

    Maybe China is concerned about US “interest” in Africa, especially in the US “interest” in interdicting the New Silk Road. And it’s funny how Jihadism “suddenly” springs up wherever the US has an “interest.”

  • Mu’ammar Abdur-Rashid

    It’s basically neocolonialism at work. China has a foot hold in Africa and in the Caribbean for a long time now. Their focuses are mainly natural resources and infrastructure abroad; railroad, highways, telecom, mining, crops, etc. It’s sounds all too familiar.

    • Secundius

      If you’re referring to “Trinidad and Tobago”? Not really! The First Wave of Chinese landed on the Islands in 1853 and Peaked in 1949, just after the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949. And restarted again in 1978. The First Governor General of Trinidad and Tobago was a Jamaican born Chinese named Sir Solomon Hochoy in 31 August 1962…