Chinese military naval bases in Africa and US-Indian naval influence around the world

Chinese military analysts studied the scenarios of China’s foreign bases after the launch of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, and all Chinese defense research called for improving external logistical facilities to accomplish China’s various military tasks, and to support the “high seas and oceans of China forces” issued in 2019.  In pursuit of these Chinese goals, the People’s Liberation Army shifted from the strategy of “active defense near the Chinese coast to the strategy of maneuver operations in the Chinese high seas and oceans”, known as (Yuanhai Jedong Zuzan Ningli) in China.  Hence, Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered China’s navy to resolve all perceived shortcomings to increase China’s naval military power by 2035, when the current phase of China’s naval military modernization is scheduled to be completed.

 For China, the African continent is a testing ground for China’s operations in the high seas region. In addition, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army monitors port traffic in preparation for access to the best maritime sites for the establishment of Chinese naval bases, especially in the African continent, and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army perseveres in conducting many joint military exercises and military education abroad, which improves interoperability, and acquaintance with foreign forces, surveillance, and intelligence at a relatively low cost. It can be said that the accumulated experience of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in African waters prepares it for more complex future tasks to obtain more naval bases around the world.

 And after China approved the Chinese Belt and Road initiative plan in 2013, it began to ensure control to protect its interests at sea and globally. Therefore, the Supreme Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party in China issued a  (Necklace of Pearls Plan), which means the need to establish a group of Chinese military and naval bases in Asia, the Indian Ocean, and the African continent to ensure the preservation of China’s various interests and investments around the world.  Here comes the strategy of extending the (Chinese pearl necklace for maritime expansion plan around the world) and reaching the south of the Atlantic Ocean, especially in the depths of the African continent and the country of Namibia in the first place, with the observation of intense Chinese activity these days in the port of the Namibian Walvis Bay. Which is located in the deep waters of Namibia near several other African countries, and China plans to establish several naval military bases in it, especially with the settlement of many Chinese nationals in several African countries, and the arrival of the first citizen of Chinese origin to the Namibian parliament.   

 Here, several African countries, such as: (Namibia, Kenya, Seychelles, and Tanzania) appeared at the forefront of many Chinese speculations and expectations, as possible sites for the establishment of naval military bases for China, and the heavy Chinese presence in the Seychelles ports was a source of American and Western concern, which China denied, explaining  that “its presence in the Seychelles will not rise to the level of a military naval base”. China always stresses that its presence in African ports mostly comes for anti-piracy tasks in order to preserve its maritime interests.

   There are growing expectations that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will open its second naval base on the African continent on the Atlantic coast, as part of China’s efforts to become a global military power capable of projecting its power far from its shores. The locations where Chinese military and naval bases are expected to open include: Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Namibia, with the increasing Chinese attempts to spread more capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army in Africa. The African continent alone hosts more than 10,000 Chinese companies, one million Chinese immigrants, and about 260,000 Chinese workers, most of whom work in the projects and investments of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, which is essentially a Chinese strategy to link global economic and sea corridors with China.

  On the other hand, China is also trying to obtain maritime facilities in the largest possible number of European ports such as Germany, Italy and Greece, in addition to the large Chinese expansion in all Argentine ports in Latin America, to be a monitoring network for American navigation in the South Atlantic Ocean, with the possibility of Chinese negotiation over  Exploiting the largest possible number of ports that are frequently used by Chinese ships, such as: (the Pakistani port of Karachi, the Omani port of Salalah, the Seychelles ports, and the neighboring ports of Myanmar and Sri Lanka).

  Hence, in 2016, China actually started building its first naval base in Africa and outside its borders in the state of Djibouti.  One of the reasons that made Djibouti so important to the Chinese is that it is one of the main hubs of global trade.  More than 80% of the movement of goods and trade imported by its neighbor, Ethiopia, is unloaded in the port of Doraleh Djibouti, which is one of the largest deep-water ports in the East African region. China is also trying at the present time to build many naval bases in Africa, given its importance to China, as it is close to the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf region, from which China imports half of its crude oil around the world. Here, it is mentioned that China in recent years has owned a quarter of the port of Djibouti, and is also a partner in the construction of port infrastructure, energy facilities and trains, and is responsible for the free trade movement in Djibouti and Ethiopia as well.

 For this, the Chinese strategy comes to control the areas of ports and sea lanes, and the western part in particular of the Indian Ocean, to improve China’s position vis-a-vis India, China’s strongest Asian competition, which has effective control over the Indian Ocean. Here, it is believed that India’s efforts to build security facilities on (Agalega Island in the African country of Mauritius) came in response to the growing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean. The strategy of establishing Chinese bases in the Indian Ocean partly seeks to solve the “dilemma of the Strait of Malacca” for China, to pass 80% of China’s imports from the Middle East and Africa through it through those sea lanes in the Indian Ocean that are guarded by potential enemies for China, mainly the US Navy on her head.

  With this step, China is trying to test the impact of strengthening its power in the region, in the seas, and in the whole world, and to constitute a deterrent force in front of its rivals in the region and the superpowers.  The strengthening of China’s influence in several regions of the world is part of the general strategy of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to achieve China’s strategic economic vision, which is represented in maintaining stability in the world, which would ensure the stability of international trade lines for China. Accordingly, China seeks to develop a modern naval military force that is appropriate to its interests in the areas of national security and development, and to expand its ability to protect the beaches to protect open waters, and protect strategic transport lines and China’s interests that go beyond the sea.  American influence and expansion.

  China is developing a specific military naval strategy, regarding the need to be present in the largest possible number of ports and camps close to the American and western side, represented by its allies. Therefore, China built the Chinese People’s Liberation Army naval support base in the State of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, as the first Chinese naval bases overseas in 2017, adjacent to several other foreign military bases, including: (Camp Lemonnier of the US Navy, Base Irian 188 of the  French Air Force, and the Japan Self-Defense Forces base in Djibouti).

  China is trying to be heavily present and establish more military naval bases around the world, especially in the African continent, to increase China’s potential to project its power in the (Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean). Therefore, the construction of the Chinese naval base in the state of Djibouti came, due to its occupation of a strategic location on the Bab al-Mandab Strait, which separates the Gulf of Aden from the Red Sea, and is considered the gateway leading to the Suez Canal to the west of the city of Djibouti, south of the city of Doraleh.

  One of the results of the presence of a Chinese base in the vicinity of an American base in the state of Djibouti, for example, was numerous geopolitical tensions with the American side, and this is precisely what happened when the United States of America closed a Russian base in 2014, for fear of any Chinese presence, in addition to the modernization of (Camp Lemonnier in  Djibouti), at a cost of one billion dollars, to obstruct Chinese influence and expansion, mainly in the Horn of Africa.  So the protest of US government officials came from Djibouti’s agreement to establish a Chinese base only two years after they modernized  (Camp Lemonnier in  Djibouti), so the accusation of President Ismail Omar Guelleh came that the United States of America is biased against the Chinese base on the pretext of obstructing its activities and operations freely, with the transfer of  This infection is for the Japanese to fear the presence of any Chinese base near them in Djibouti, and it was noted that the Japanese were more afraid of the Americans.

  Finally, we can here analysis and reach out that the biggest American fear about the Chinese naval presence near it is the fear that American military technology in the region will be exposed to continuous Chinese surveillance, which makes it easy to disable or imitate it, and thus it will be forced to withdraw these technologies from any region in which China is present, thereby reducing the quality and capabilities of the operating American forces, in favor of the Chinese impulse from the American point of view.

Dr.Nadia Helmy
Dr.Nadia Helmy
Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit