The military could face “significant” consequences should China take over a key port in Djibouti, the top U.S. general for Africa told lawmakers on Tuesday, Reuters reported.
This warning comes as Beijing has been spreading its influence in Africa in an apparent attempt to gain power. U.S. lawmakers alleged they had seen reports that Djibouti seized control of a huge port to present it as a gift to China.
If China places constraints on the port’s use, negative consequences could arise as it could affect resupplying the U.S. base in Djibouti and hinder Navy ships from refueling there, said Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the top U.S. military commander overseeing troops in Africa. Djibouti’s U.S. military base houses around 4,000 personnel, including Special Operations Forces. It is a launch pad for operations in Yemen and Somalia.
“If the Chinese took over that port, then the consequences could be significant,” Waldhauser said during the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday regarding concerns about China’s role in Africa.
“There are some indications of (China) looking for additional facilities, specifically on the eastern coast… So Djibouti happens to be the first – there will be more,” Waldhauser pointed out.
After an ongoing disagreement that began in 2012, Djibouti in February terminated its contract with Dubai’s DP World, one of the world’s biggest port operators, to run the Doraleh Container Terminal.
DP World initiated new adjudication proceedings before the London Court of International Arbitration, citing the termination was an illegal seizure.
In Djibouti and not far from a critical U.S. military base, China has established its own military base.
“If this was an illegal seizure of that port, what is to say that government wouldn’t illegally terminate our lease before its term is up,” said Rep. Bradley Byrne, a Republican, Reuters reported.
Byrne voiced his concerns in a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis about China’s influence in Djibouti and the impact it would have on U.S. military and intelligence assets.
“We hope that the U.S. side can objectively and fairly view China’s development and China-Africa cooperation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a daily news briefing.
China is a part of “revisionist powers” that “seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models,” the Pentagon said.
In the midst of revising U.S. military strategies in the region, concentrating on China, Waldhauser said: “China has been on the African continent for quite some time, but we as a combatant command have not dealt with it in terms of a strategic interest. We are taking baby steps in that regard.”