‘Setting off alarm bells’: China seeks to establish military base off Atlantic coast of Africa; top general calls it the ‘most significant’ threat to US

China is reportedly seeking to establish a permanent military presence in the Atlantic Ocean, a possibility that is “setting off alarm bells at the White House and Pentagon.”

What is the background?

Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, told the U.S. Senate in April that China establishing a military presence on the Atlantic side of Africa is the “most significant” threat from China for the U.S.

“This is the most significant threat, I think, from China would be to gain a militarily useful naval facility on the Atlantic coast of Africa,” Townsend said.

“And by ‘militarily useful’ I mean something more than a place that they can make port calls and get gas and groceries. I am talking about a port where they can rearm with munitions and repair naval vessels,” he explained. “They are working aggressively to get that, but we have not seen any of that come to fruition yet, and it is my number one global power competition concern.”

Now, it appears China is looking to do just that.

What are the details?

The Wall Street Journal reported, citing classified American intelligence reports, that communist China is exploring the establishment of a military base in the tiny Central African country of Equatorial Guinea.

Intelligence suggests the city of Bata, the largest in Equatorial Guinea, could be the location of the military installation. The possibility is particularly concerning for American interests because Bata sits on the Atlantic Ocean and already has a Chinese-built deep-water port. Thus, the location would be suitable for the Chinese Navy.

The U.S. is so alarmed at the possibility that Jon Finer, deputy national security adviser to President Joe Biden, was dispatched to Equatorial Guinea in October to persuade President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo to stop China from building a military base in his country.

“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 top Biden administration official told the Journal.

Unfortunately, China appears to be one of Equatorial Guinea’s closest allies. After Finer’s visit in October, Obiang reportedly spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Following that conversation, China published the statement, “Equatorial Guinea has always regarded China as its most important strategic partner.” China also reportedly helps train security forces in Equatorial Guinea.

Additionally, Obiang is a dictator who has held control of Equatorial Guinea for more than 40 years. He has often been accused of human rights abuses and siphoning resources from the oil-rich nation to enrich his own family. Obiang rose to power following a coup d’état in which Obiang ousted his uncle from power in 1979.

So what is Biden doing?

The Biden administration is attempting to thwart China’s plans through diplomacy and stern messages, one of which is, “It would be shortsighted of Equatorial Guinea to insert itself between the front lines of U.S.-China global competition,” according to the Journal.

More from the Journal:

At the same time, the U.S. wants to convey a nuanced message: Washington isn’t asking Equatorial Guinea to abandon its extensive ties with China, but just to keep relations within bounds the U.S. considers unthreatening.

Meanwhile, officials from Equatorial Guinea, including the country’s U.S. ambassador, did not respond to the Wall Street Journal’s story.

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