By Dan Southerland *
China is building a new military port on the Atlantic coast of Africa.
The port of Bata, in the Central African nation of Equatorial Guinea, is fast becoming China’s first permanent military presence on the West African coast.
U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal that this means Chinese warships may be able to rearm and re-equip in a location away from the U.S. east coast.
The new Chinese naval base would be located nearly 10,000 kilometers, or 6,000 miles from Washington. But US officials have expressed concern over the matter.
In October, the US government sent a senior national security adviser to the small oil-producing country of Equatorial Guinea to call on authorities to resist opening up China. It seems he did not succeed.
Meanwhile, The Economist magazine said “the Gulf of Guinea would be a logical place to seek a base.”
“Piracy is a scourge there,” he said. “So China could plausibly state that its aid is necessary. “
And, according to the magazine, the family dictatorship in Equatorial Guinea “turns out to be the kind of dictatorship that China is well accustomed to doing business with in Africa: brutal, corrupt and a financial mess.”
In recent years, the United States and its allies have confiscated allegedly ill-gotten luxury goods from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue. The proceeds are used to fund COVID-19 vaccines and other medical aids for the country.
Five years after building its only overseas base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa on the east coast of Africa, Djibouti has so far remained the only stronghold of Chinese armed forces abroad.
Ryan Martinson of the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, provides some useful information.
Chinese military analysts, he said, have openly advocated “pushing into waters far from home to divert America’s attention and resources away from Chinese waters.”
Martinson quotes a book by Hu Bo of Peking University, in which Hu acknowledges that the Chinese navy could not compete with America for supremacy in distant seas.
But Hu suggests that China might “pin down” some US forces that might otherwise be sent to East Asia.
Martinson also quotes Liu Zhe, the captain of China’s first aircraft carrier Liaoning, who wrote in an essay in 2017 that “the further we move from our territorial sea, the safer the homeland will be behind us.”
The Economist says China is “becoming a more adventurous naval power”, amassing more ships, but not more tonnage, than the US Navy.
But most of these ships remain in Indo-Pacific waters.
When China began building its first overseas base in 2016 in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, Chinese authorities attempted to allay Westerners’ concern over their country’s growing military presence.
Accumulation of debts
They said the Djibouti base was built only to “support multinational anti-piracy efforts, help secure vital shipping lanes and allow China to protect its citizens in the region.”
In 2011, the Chinese navy helped evacuate some 30,000 Chinese citizens from Libya as the North African country descended into civil war.
But in Kenya, south of Djibouti, local citizens are worried about the dangers of oil spills, the inevitable accidents the Chinese navy could cause, and the costs of financing a new port and a new railroad.
Critics say Kenya “has sold its soul to China and is drowning in debt it will not be able to repay”, according to a foreign journalist living in Kenya.
Meanwhile, China’s commitment to offer economic and financial assistance to a number of African countries appears to have its limits.
Experts worry about the ability of African countries to repay Chinese loans, according to the Financial Times.
Apparently, with that in mind, China has announced plans to cut loans to these countries by a third over the next three years.
In a recent video address to the Triennial Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Senegal, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to provide $ 40 billion to African states in investments, lines of credit, trade finance and rights. special draws.
Although this represents a reduction from the $ 80 billion pledged at the previous two summits, Xi stressed his commitment to what he called a “win-win situation.”
Meanwhile, Chidi Odinkalu, senior director for Africa at the Open Society Foundations, criticized some African governments for relying too much on loans from China.
“China’s strategic objective was to get one foot in the door,” he said. “Now that she’s in the door, she can choose to dictate the terms.”
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says debt ratios in sub-Saharan Africa have increased in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This creates over-indebtedness in countries that were already suffering from negative financial conditions.
Africa has experienced an estimated 214,000 deaths as well as drastic economic effects from COVID-19.
As Africa’s largest bilateral creditor, China holds more than 20% of Africa’s debt.
And payments to China represent nearly 30% of the debt service of 2021. Angola alone accounts for nearly a third.
The Center for the Study of Economies in Africa reports that at least three factors are at the root of the debt crisis: a global recession in the early 1980s, rising interest rates in developed countries and a decrease in new capital inflows.
According to the Washington DC-based Brookings Institution, in 2018, 19 African countries exceeded the 60% debt-to-GDP threshold set by the African Monetary Cooperation Program for Developing Countries.
Meanwhile, 24 countries have exceeded the 95% debt-to-GDP ratio suggested by the IMF.
Exceeding this threshold means that these countries are very vulnerable to economic changes while their governments have a reduced capacity to support their economies in the event of a recession.
*Dan Southerland is the founding editor of RFA.