The top general over U.S. troops in Africa warned that China plans to establish a new military base on Africa’s western coast capable of hosting submarines and aircraft carriers. The move would expand China’s access to the Atlantic Ocean and provide a base to rearm its naval forces in a potential conflict with the U.S.
In an interview with the Associated Press published Thursday, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) commanding Gen. Stephen Townsend said China has already approached countries along nearly the entire west African coastline, as far north as Mauritania and as far south as Namibia, to pitch the major naval base idea.
“They’re looking for a place where they can rearm and repair warships. That becomes militarily useful in conflict,” Townsend told the Associated Press.
A Chinese military base on the west African coastline could put Chinese forces closer to east coast U.S. than any Chinese bases in the Pacific are to west coast U.S.
Townsend noted China has already taken efforts to establish a seaport on Africa’s eastern coastline, strengthening their access to the Indian ocean.
“They’re a long way toward establishing that in Djibouti,” Townsend said, referring to the nation that rests on the east African coastline, at the mouth of the Red Sea. “Now they’re casting their gaze to the Atlantic coast and wanting to get such a base there.”
China established its sea base in Djibouti years ago and has been steadily expanding it. Townsend said China’s east African base already hosts around 2,000 military personnel, including Chinese marines, tasked with defending the base.
“They have arms and munitions for sure,” Townsend said of the Djibouti base. “They have armored combat vehicles. We think they will soon be basing helicopters there to potentially include attack helicopters.”
Townsend said China is “outmanuevering” the U.S. in key countries throughout Africa.
“Port projects, economic endeavors, infrastructure and their agreements and contracts will lead to greater access in the future,” Townsend said. “They are hedging their bets and making big bets on Africa.”
China has also brought huge sums of money to the effort to win influence in Africa. During an April 22 hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Townsend said China has already pledged $60 billion in infrastructure spending and arms sales to African countries.
One African country China is reportedly considering for its next military base is the eastern African country of Tanzania. Townsend expressed hope that China chooses to put its military resources there, rather than on the west African coast.
“I want it to be in Tanzania instead of on the Atlantic coast. The Atlantic coast concerns me greatly,” he said.
Bradley Bowman, the director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies echoed Townsend’s concerns in comments to the Washington Times on Thursday.
With a Chinese base on Africa’s west coast, Bowman said, “It’s just a matter of time before you have regular surface and subsurface Chinese naval vessels in the Atlantic.”
China has been rapidly building its naval forces in recent years and even surpassed the U.S. as the country with the most ships in 2019. Last week, China commemorated the launch of three new ships, including a helicopter carrier, nuclear sub and guided-missile destroyer.