China intends to establish a permanent military presence on the Atlantic Ocean in the tiny Central African country of Equatorial Guinea, according to classified US intelligence reports cited by US officials.
A report published in Wall Street Journal said Chinese intention to establish its first permanent military presence has raised concerns in the White House and Pentagon as Chinese warships would be able to rearm and refit opposite the East Coast of the US.
Principal Deputy US National Security Adviser Jon Finer, the report notes, visited the Central African country in October and called on President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo to reject China's overtures.
The developments reflect the dramatically rising tensions between Washington and Beijing, who have been at loggerheads over a range of issues from trade, security to coronavirus in recent years.
Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the US Africa command, while testifying in the Senate in April asserted that the “most significant threat” from China would be “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. I'm talking about a port where they can rearm with munitions and repair naval vessels,” he said.
Ironically, the Biden administration seeks help from the country that the US State Department has repeatedly accused of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture and other abuses.
Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony with a population of 1.4 million, secured independence in 1968. Obiang has ruled the country since 1979.
“As part of our diplomacy to address maritime-security issues, we have made clear to Equatorial Guinea that certain potential steps involving [Chinese] activity there would raise national-security concerns,” a senior Biden administration official was quoted as saying in the report.
Chinese government has allegedly targeted Bata city for military construction, according to the US officials cited in the report.
Bata is the largest city of the Central African country in which China has built a deep-water commercial port on the Gulf of Guinea. The city has excellent highways which link it to Gabon and the interiors of Central Africa.
However, there are no visible signs of major military construction of China at the Bata port, the report notes.
Concerned about a new challenge from the Chinese side, Biden administration has urged the government in Equatorial Guinea not to intervene between the front lines of American-Chinese global competition.
Meanwhile, Washington says it isn't asking Equatorial Guinea to abandon its extensive ties with China, but just to keep the relations within a framework that is not threatening to the US policies.
China has extensive ties with President Obiang’s government and helps train and arm the Equatorial Guinean police.
Beijing set up its first overseas military base in 2017 in Djibouti, which looks onto the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, a strategic chokepoint for shipping. The Chinese facility is said to own a pier capable of docking an aircraft carrier and nuclear submarines.
According to a US official, referred to by the Wall Street Journal, the US government is also skeptical about the Chinese status in Mauritania, advising local authorities to rebuff any effort by Beijing to use a Chinese-built port for military purposes.
In a report to Congress this year, the Pentagon said China “has likely considered” African bases in Kenya, Seychelles, Tanzania and Angola.