The United States aims to thwart China’s plan for the Atlantic base in Africa
The United States aims to thwart China’s plan for the Atlantic base in Africa

The United States aims to thwart China’s plan for the Atlantic base in Africa

NAIROBI – Biden administration intensifies its campaign to persuade Equatorial Guinea to reject China’s attempt to build a military base on the country’s Atlantic coast.

A delegation of senior U.S. diplomatic and military personnel plans to visit the small Central African nation next week, according to government officials, and is expected to discuss U.S. anti-piracy assistance and other incentives aimed at convincing Equatorial Guinea’s president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo to reject progress.

The delegation will be led by the Foreign Ministry’s top official in Africa, Molly Phee, and Major General Kenneth Ekman of the Military Africa Command.

The visit coincides with growing American concern over China’s global expansionism and its pursuit of a permanent military presence on waters that the United States considers home.

“We really, really did not like to see a Chinese facility” on the Atlantic, said Tibor Nagy, Ms. Phees’ predecessor as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

The Wall Street Journal reported last year that classified U.S. intelligence reports suggest that China intends to build its first Atlantic base in Equatorial Guinea, likely in the city of Bata. Bata already has a Chinese-built commercial port with water deep enough to dock for naval vessels.

The head of the U.S. Command of Africa, General Stephen Townsend, later reiterated the report’s findings, telling the Voice of America in January that Beijing is “committed to building a military air base and / or naval facility in Equatorial Guinea.”

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington did not directly comment on Beijing’s hopes for the west coast of Africa, but added that “China is committed to a defensive national defense policy and is always a builder of world peace.”

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Chinese state-owned enterprises are building ports and other things infrastructure throughout Africa, from highways in Kenya to hospitals in the hinterland of Equatorial Guinea. A military base in Bata would fit the Chinese model to integrate commercial and political goals, say China experts, because it would both give the Chinese military a place to rebuild and refurbish warships in the Atlantic and give Chinese companies access to the interior of Central Africa via Equatorial Guinea’s excellent highways.

The United States is hoping to cancel any deal before it is signed, and Equatorial Guinea’s leaders appear to be aware of the potential leverage they now have.

In December, the president’s son and heir, Vice President Teodoro “Teodorin” Nguema Obiang Mangue, tweeted: “China is the model for a friendly nation and strategic partner, but so far there is no agreement.”

In October last year, a senior White House official visited Mr. Obiang and his son in Malabo – the capital of the island of Bioko – to raise US objections to China’s ground plans.

“We do not ask [Equatorial Guinea] to choose between China and us, ”General Townsend told VOA. “What we are asking them to do is consider their other international partners and their concerns, because a Chinese military base in Equatorial Guinea is of great concern to the United States and all their other partners.”

A Chinese aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean.


Photo:

Reuters

Equatorial Guinea was Spain’s only colony in sub-Saharan Africa. Since its independence in 1968, the country has been ruled by members of a single family.

Mr. Obiang came to power in 1979 after overthrowing his infamous brutal uncle, Francisco Macias.

Successive US administrations have condemned Mr. Obiang for his regime’s alleged corruption, human rights violations and dictatorial rule.

In a civil settlement from 2014, the Justice Department took possession of a mansion, a Ferrari and Michael Jackson memorabilia worth millions of dollars, assets that the government claimed the president’s son Mr. Obiang Mangue acquired corrupt.

At the time, Mr. Obiang Mangue to have become rich by plundering the treasury.

Oil Minister Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima, another of the president’s children and often the regime’s public face, did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations against his family and US concerns about Chinese military overtures.

U.S. concerns about corruption and human rights violations limit the tools the Biden administration has at its disposal in negotiations with Obiangs, according to U.S. diplomats.

But US officials believe they can make progress by helping Equatorial Guinea secure pirate waters in the Gulf of Guinea.

A construction project in Ciudad de la Paz, Equatorial Guinea.


Photo:

Michael M. Phillips / The Wall Street Journal

The country is divided between a mainland bordering Cameroon and Gabon and a set of islands in the Gulf of Guinea. These waters generate the bulk of the country’s revenue in the form of revenue from offshore oil and gas deposits developed by U.S. energy companies.

In recent years, the Gulf of Guinea has seen an increase in piracy, which threatens both the oil industry and maritime traffic in Equatorial Guinea’s waters. Over the past two years, there have been 54 incidents in which pirates have managed to board commercial or private vessels, as well as four more that ended in gunfire, according to data from the Gulf of Guinea collected by the British and French fleets.

On January 29, armed attackers in a speedboat approached a passenger boat between Bata and Malabo, leading to a firefight between the pirates and the boat’s security team.

“It has now become the most dangerous waterway in the world in terms of piracy,” Mr Nagy said.

U.S. officials associate maritime security assistance with their efforts to woo Equatorial Guinea away from the Chinese.

General Townsend told reporters this month that the United States supports the creation of an international task force to combat piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, similar to an effort that has apparently succeeded in eliminating such crimes on the other side of the continent, off Horn. of Africa.

Write to Michael M. Phillips at [email protected]

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