General: PRC’s Africa outpost poses threat from Atlantic

General: PRC’s Africa outpost poses threat from Atlantic

The Associated Press

The top United States general for Africa is warning that a growing threat from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) may come not just from the Pacific Ocean but from the Atlantic Ocean as well.

U.S. Gen. Stephen Townsend said Beijing is looking to establish a navy port capable of hosting submarines or aircraft carriers on Africa’s western coast. Townsend said the PRC has approached countries stretching from Mauritania in northwest Africa south to Namibia. Such a facility would enable the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to base warships in its expanding People’s Liberation Army Navy in the Atlantic as well as Pacific oceans.

“They’re looking for a place where they can rearm and repair warships. That becomes militarily useful in conflict,” said Townsend, who heads U.S. Africa Command. “They’re a long way toward establishing that in Djibouti. Now they’re casting their gaze to the Atlantic coast and wanting to get such a base there.”

Townsend’s warnings come as the U.S. Defense Department shifts its focus from the counterterrorism wars of the past two decades to the Indo-Pacific region and threats from adversaries such as the PRC and Russia. U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration views the PRC’s rapidly expanding economic influence and military might as the nation’s primary long-term security challenge.

U.S. military commanders around the globe caution that the PRC’s growing assertiveness isn’t happening just in the Indo-Pacific. They argue that Beijing is aggressively asserting economic influence over countries in Africa, the Middle East and South America, including pursuing bases and footholds.

“Port projects, economic endeavors, infrastructure and their agreements and contracts will lead to greater access in the future,” Townsend said. “They are hedging their bets and making big bets on Africa.”

The CCP’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 based there.

“They have arms and munitions for sure. They have armored combat vehicles. We think they will soon be basing helicopters there to potentially include attack helicopters,” Townsend said.

The U.S. Defense Department’s 2020 report on China’s military power found that the CCP has likely considered adding military facilities to support its naval, air and ground forces in Angola, among other locations. It noted that the large amount of oil and liquefied natural gas imported from Africa and the Middle East make those regions a priority for China over the next 15 years.

Townsend and other U.S. military commanders shared their concerns about China during recent hearings before the U.S. Congress. (Pictured: Gen. Stephen Townsend, Commander, U.S. Africa Command, oversees a parade at the Ghana Armed Forces headquarters at Burma Camp, Ghana, in February 2021.)

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is reviewing whether the nation’s military forces are positioned to maintain global dominance. That review is expected to be finished in mid-2021.