A recently completed pier at the Chinese naval base near the entrance to the Red Sea is large enough to support an aircraft carrier, the top U.S. commander for Africa told lawmakers on Tuesday.
Referring to the Chines naval base in Djibouti, U.S. Africa Commander Army Gen. Stephen Townsend told the House Armed Services Committee that the People’s Liberation Army was expanding its existing naval installation adjacent to a Chinese-owned commercial deep-water port and also seeking other military basing options elsewhere on the continent.
“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. Around the continent they are looking for other basing opportunities,” Townsend told the HASC.
The base, formally opened in 2017, was developed to support the Chinese anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden but has expanded to include capabilities to serve as a logistical resupply hub for the PLAN’s blue-water capital ships like its new large deck Type-075 amphibious warship or domestically-designed Type 002 aircraft carrier, according to analysts.
As recently as October, commercial satellite imagery showed construction on a pier system at the military base at Djibouti.
“The base was opened in 2017 but the piers are still under construction. China has planned to have nine piers at this base with four dedicated to PLA Navy,” reported India Today.
“The pier whose construction began in 2018 has now been completed with rails for heavy duty cranes on both sides.”
A May report from USNI News contributor H I Sutton said the new 1,120-foot pier was “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.”
The base is near the Bab el Mandeb, the entrance to the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden and a major chokepoint for maritime traffic traveling toward the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea.
The U.S. and French also have installations in the vicinity of the Chinese base. The U.S. Camp Lemonnier is an easy drive from the expanding Chinese base, and troops have complained of harassment from the Chinese, including lasers directed at U.S. aircraft.
Townsend told the committee the Chinese were looking at other places across Africa with the “intent to establish naval bases and air bases.”
While the base in Djibouti is one the most obvious sign of Chinese expansion on the continent, Townsend said that Beijing was growing its presence in Africa through civilian channels.
“China is of great concern. They are literally everywhere on the continent. They are placing a lot of bets down. They are spending a lot of money,” he said.
“They built a lot of critical infrastructure.”