US intelligence believes that China is set to establish its first ever permanent naval installation on the Atlantic Ocean. On Sunday The Wall Street Journal revealed key findings of a series of classified intelligence reports that point to China’s military prepping a presence at a deep water port in Equatorial Guinea, on Africa’s east coast.
American officials who spoke to the WSJ indicated that the reports “raise the prospect that Chinese warships would be able to rearm and refit opposite the East Coast of the U.S.—a threat that is setting off alarm bells at the White House and Pentagon.”
Last April, the commander of US Africa Command, Gen. Stephen Townsend, first raised the possibility of this “most significant threat” of a PLA military Atlantic presence during Senate testimony – describing that Beijing is eyeing “a militarily useful naval facility on the Atlantic coast of Africa.”
“By militarily useful I mean something more than a place that they can make port calls and get gas and groceries,” he said at the time. “I’m talking about a port where they can rearm with munitions and repair naval vessels.”
But for all the “alarm” in Washington and the defense establishment, it bears pointing out that Equatorial Guinea is 7,000 miles away from the United States mainland. Additionally the US maintains at least 750 bases across some 80 countries worldwide, including 29 or more known bases stretching from one side of Africa to the other.
China’s first overseas military base was set up in Djibouti in 2017, on the Horn of Africa, and is less than 10 miles from Camp Lemonnier, known as the largest US base in Africa. US officials have long been concerned that along with a Chinese military footprint, Beijing hopes to coerce host countries into signing onto major Chinese investment and infrastructural deals, advancing China’s geopolitical interests in the line with Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative.
One US-funded think tank analyst pointed out the following pattern that accompanies Chinese military expansion to foreign countries:
“China doesn’t just build a military base like the U.S.,” said Paul Nantulya, research associate at the Pentagon-funded Africa Center for Strategic Studies. “The Chinese model is very, very different. It combines civilian as well as security elements.”
Chinese state-owned companies have built 100 commercial ports around Africa in the past two decades, according to Chinese government data.
In Equatorial Guinea especially, the US concern is that Beijing can more easily make deeper and lucrative economic inroads as the family-run government of longtime strongman President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (having ruled the tiny country with an iron fist since 1979) is widely perceived as corrupt.
Already China has multiple major construction companies there, and it should be remembered that the West African oil-producing country has been a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) since 2017.
China also trains and arms the country’s national police force. Equatorial Guinea has also in recent years singed Belt & Road memorandums pledging adherence to the initiative.
The WSJ report features satellite imagery and statements of US officials strongly suggesting the Chinese have an eye on Bata in particular, the country’s largest mainland city, on the coast. The report describes that this location “already has a Chinese-built deep-water commercial port on the Gulf of Guinea, and excellent highways link the city to Gabon and the interior of Central Africa.”