China is looking to create its first permanent military presence on the Atlantic Ocean, on the coast of the tiny African nation of Equatorial Guinea, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal based on classified U.S. intelligence.
Malabo, the Equatoguinean capital, is just 144 kilometres from Calabar, 225km from Port Harcourt, and 672km from Lagos.
Though U.S. officials did not describe Beijing’s plans in detail, they said China’s presence on Africa’s Atlantic coast would enhance the possible threat to the U.S., as it would give Chinese warships a place to rearm and refit opposite the East Coast, the Journal reported.
The Journal reported that the General Stephen Townsend, the commander of U.S. Africa Command, informed the U.S. Senate in April that China’s “most significant threat” would be “a militarily useful naval facility on the Atlantic coast of Africa.”
“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,” Townsend added.
The Journal further reported that Jon Finer, President Joe Biden’s principal deputy national security adviser, travelled to Equatorial Guinea in October in an effort to convince President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and his son Vice President Teodoro ‘Teodorin’ Nguema Obiang Mangue to reject China’s proposal, the newspaper reported.
The 79-year-old Obiang is the longest-serving president in the world, having ruled his country with an iron fist since August 1979.
In recent months, tensions between China and the U.S. have risen amidst human rights issues, the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns about Taiwan.
China currently has a military base in the East African nation of Djibouti. Built in 2016, China says the “support base” will be used for peacekeeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and West Asia.
It will also be used for military co-operation, naval exercises and rescue missions.