The US has hundreds of bases overseas and knows the value they have. But China’s bid to build one in Africa has met with a predictable response
Equatorial Guinea, one of Africa’s smallest nations is Equatorial Guinea. It is a former Spanish colony. This paradoxical country has the highest per capita income on Africa, yet it also suffers extreme poverty and inequality. This seemingly small state is now at the center of the geopolitical battle between China and the United States that is currently playing out in Africa.
The US military will send a group of military personnel to Malabo this week in order to address claims Beijing has set up an illegal military base on the islands.
Similar accusations have been made by the US before about China’s support of bases in the United Arab Emirates, and Cambodia. Washington’s modus operandi has been to put pressure on the country in question, or even turn to sanctions if necessary.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, in the case of Equatorial Guinea, the US fears that Beijing could establish a presence in the Atlantic which would undermine NATO’s effective supremacy there and prove a game-changer strategically.
But what gives the US the right to establish military bases all over the world, yet to try to deny China – which has only one confirmed overseas – the right to have any at all?
At present, China’s military strategy is twofold. Beijing’s main priority is military modernisation and naval expansion with a focus on protecting its immediate periphery, which the US is attempting to encircle. China believes that America, its allies will seek to place an embargo against it in a conflict scenario and that China’s strategy is based on this assumption. One of the two launched aircraft carriers has been completed, while another one is being built. By the end of 2021, China had reportedly established the largest navy in the world, and it doesn’t plan to stop there.
This leads into China’s second priority. Beijing has been trying to preserve its energy supply lines, even as it builds its navy. It has established a military presence at the west Indian Ocean, off the coast of Arabian Peninsula, and Horn of Africa to ensure that its oil imports are routed through.
Several years ago, China established its first military base overseas in Djibouti and in this region has also pushed military cooperation with Russia and Iran, while building up Pakistan as an alternative energy transit route through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Given both these considerations, it seems clear that China’s overarching military strategy is to gain the upper hand in the Indo-Pacific by nullifying the ability of the US to contain it and embargo it.
At first glance, then, the west coast of Africa wouldn’t seem to fit into China’s plans. Beijing does not seek to claim military supremacy over the Atlantic region, which is an area it has largely disengaged from. It is also not looking for a place from which it can target the US homeland.
It is important to note that China also has strategic interests in Africa. South of Equatorial Guinée is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This country, which has unrivalled mineral resources, is a crucial partner to Beijing. Angola is another African oil exporting country, further south. The ships that sail from this point start in the Atlantic, and they are very vulnerable. They must travel around the Horn of Africa to reach safer waters. China considers NATO military supremacy over the Atlantic unacceptable. China must project its influence in this region.
As a result, it is reasonable to assume that as political tensions rise, China’s global military footprint will expand as it seeks to protect its interests. This trend has been repeated by almost all major powers throughout history.
This is the way the US has grown over time to be a world hegemon. It did this by expanding its influence in different regions and participating in wars that it used to access other parts of the globe. However, China does not seem to be attempting to follow the US’s lead in building a military presence in every corner the globe.
The US, however, is denying its responsibility for how it will respond to these developments. The US believes it’s the only nation entitled to a significant overseas military presence. It also thinks it has the ability to bully others into thinking in its favor. It fails to recognise that its own hostility towards China is driving Beijing’s desire to expand, and that there is no bottom line that has been placed on military tensions. Biden’s administration refuses to decrease its military footprint in order to maintain peace.
Washington doesn’t realize that hosting US military forces can have strategic benefits. The Wall Street Journal article makes clear that while Equatorial Guinea has not made any deal with China yet, it wants something in return from the US if it is to say no to Beijing’s bid.
All in all, this small country owes America nothing. This isn’t an ally nor partner. What is America prepared to offer?
The dynamic of the deal will not change even if it is stopped by the US. China talks about noninterventionism. However, China is becoming more integrated in the global economy and feels pressure to deploy its military overseas.
Some claims about overseas bases are made in bad faith speculation by US media. The suggestion that one was being built in the UAE was a sketchy story designed to undermine Beijing’s relationship with Abu Dhabi amid growing resentment over their close ties. Yet, on the other hand, China’s aspirations are real and outlined with clear evidence. Beijing has learned that the geopolitical games are a constant part of its life, regardless of whether or not it wants it to. The Chinese government now sees the west as a realistic partner and believes it may need to use force to protect its interests.
Although securing supplies to the Horn of Africa is the primary purpose of a possible base in Equatorial Guidance, this also shows China’s willingness to take greater measures to strengthen its security. The US’ misguided belief that it can contain Beijing, and its assumption it can prevent China’s military expansion are naive and misleading.
However, will Malabo fulfill Washington’s wishes? At this point, one thing is crystal clear: Malabo sees the opportunity no matter what.
These opinions, statements and thoughts are the sole opinion of the author. They do not necessarily reflect those made by RT.