Published:December 6, 2021
The US and China are at odds over a tiny country on the African coast.
Citing classified US intelligence reports, the Wall Street Journal reported China intends to establish its first permanent military presence on the Atlantic Ocean in Equatorial Guinea.
Officials said the reports raise the prospect that Chinese warships would be able to rearm and refit opposite the East Coast of the US — your basic doorway to the Atlantic — a threat that is setting off alarm bells at the White House and Pentagon.
“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 told the WSJ.
The great-power skirmishing over a country that rarely draws outside attention reflects the rising tensions between Washington and Beijing.
The two countries are sparring over the status of Taiwan, China’s lead in hypersonic missile technology, the detainment of hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and other issues.
On Monday, the US announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2020 Olympics.
Worldwide, the US finds itself maneuvering to try to block China from projecting its military power from new overseas bases, from Cambodia to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the WSJ reported.
According to the Washington Post, Chinese entities financed and built Africa’s biggest port, a railway to Ethiopia and the country’s first overseas naval base.
Under the sea, they are building a cable that will transmit data across a region that spans from Kenya to Yemen. The cable will connect to an Internet hub housing servers mostly run by China’s state-owned telecom companies.
The Chinese facility has a pier capable of docking an aircraft carrier and nuclear submarines, according to US Africa Command.
The base is also 6 miles from the largest American base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier, home to 4,500 US troops.
Meanwhile, despite recently shutting bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US still maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries, with some 138,000 soldiers stationed around the globe.
In Equatorial Guinea, the Chinese likely have an eye on Bata. The latter 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.
The “most significant threat” from China would be “a militarily useful naval facility on the Atlantic coast of Africa,” Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, testified in the Senate in April.
“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.”
Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony with a population of 1.4 million, secured independence in 1968. The capital, Malabo, is on the island of Bioko, while Bata is the largest city on the mainland section of the country, which is wedged between Gabon and Cameroon.
Obiang is the longest-serving president in the world, having ruled for more than 40 years.
Human Rights Watch and other groups have complained of “relentless repression” of civil society during his reign, along with “staggering corruption that has siphoned off the country’s oil wealth.”
According to the US government, the president’s son — whose Instagram account shows him meeting world leaders such as the Pope and Israel’s prime minister; playing polo, or posing on a private jet — of amassing a fortune of more than $300 million “through corruption and money laundering.”