Chinese base in Africa big enough to host aircraft carriers, US general says
China’s naval base in the East African country of Djibouti is now big enough to host aircraft carriers – the latest sign that Beijing is looking to expand military capabilities in the region – a leading US general has warned.
General Stephen Townsend, commander for the African region, told US politicians the that the Chinese base was undergoing major expansion.
“Their first overseas military base, their only one, is in Africa, and they have just expanded that by adding a significant pier that can support even their aircraft carriers in the future,” General Townsend said.
“Around the continent they are looking for other basing opportunities.”
Djibouti is a small but strategically vital country that sits at the southern end of the Red Sea. It is a gateway to the Suez Canal through which trillions of dollars of trade passes through from the US and Europe into the Indian Ocean and beyond.
The Chinese base is turning into a “platform to project power across the continent and its waters,” General Townsend said in a statement submitted last Tuesday to the US House Armed Services Committee.
He also warned that Beijing had increased its economic activity in Africa, surpassing the US and its allies.
“They seek resources and markets to feed economic growth in China and leverage economic tools to increase their global reach and influence,” General Townsend said.
The Australian government is also worried about China’s growing naval power in the Asia Pacific.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton has warned that China was militarising ports in the region.
“We need to recognise that our region is changing,” Mr Dutton said yesterday.
“China is militarising ports across our region. We need to deal with all of that, and that is exactly what we are now focused on.”
The comments follow the contentious decision by Foreign Minister Marise Payne to scrap Victoria’s controversial infrastructure agreement with Beijing linked to China’s Belt and Road initiative.
The move prompted immediate backlash from Beijing, with Chinese officials slamming it as an “unreasonable and provocative move taken by the Australian side against China”.
Over the past year, China has slapped trade sanctions on a range of Australian exports, with billions of dollars wiped, after Australia called for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and the federal government introduced foreign interference legislation.
Mr Dutton’s comments yesterday will be taken as further indication of rising tensions, as the federal government refuses to back down.