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The head of the US Africa command, Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, expressed concern about China’s growing military presence in Djibouti.
He said China’s claim that it was building logistics facilities in Djibouti was not correct as Beijing was in the process of creating a full-fledged military base that would sit alongside the US and French bases in that country. strategic Indian Ocean.
It would be the first time that NATO allies – France and the United States – would have to face a military base under the command of a competing nation in the same location.
“We’ve never had a base of, let’s just say a competitor, as close as this one is,” said Waldhauser. “So there’s a lot of learning going on, a lot of growth going on. “
“Yes, there are very important operational security issues, and I think our base there is important for us because it’s not just AFRICOM that uses [it]”He told Breaking Defense.
In January 2016, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters in Beijing that the facilities were to support China’s escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and would not lead to a base. military.
He explained, “Ships have been sent by China to the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somali coast for escort missions in recent years. In the accomplishment of the escort missions, we encountered real difficulties for the supply of the soldiers and the refueling with fuel and food, and we considered it really necessary to have close and efficient logistical support. China and Djibouti have consulted and reached consensus on building logistics facilities in Djibouti, which will allow Chinese troops to better fulfill escort missions and make new contributions to peace and security. regional stability.
“The nature of the facilities involved is clear, which consists of providing logistical support to Chinese fleets carrying out escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and in the waters off the Somali coast,” the spokesperson said.
But General Waldhauser told reporters in Washington at the end of March: “It should be characterized as a military base. This is the first for them. They never had a base abroad.
Speaking to the US Senate Armed Services Committee in early March, General Waldhauser said, “Just as the United States pursues strategic interests in Africa, so international competitors, including China and Russia, do. the same. Whether it is with trade, the exploitation of natural resources or the sale of arms, we continue to see international competitors engaging with African partners in a manner contrary to international standards of transparency and good governance.
“These competitors weaken the ability of our African partners to govern and will ultimately hamper Africa’s long-term stability and economic growth, and they will also undermine and diminish the influence of the United States – a message we must continue. to share with our partners, ”added General Waldhauser. .
President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti has taken a new direction as he strengthens relations with China at the apparent expense of longtime allies France and the United States.
The United States now has special forces members in Djibouti under its Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to counter increased al-Shabaab activity in East Africa.
French and US military dominance in Djibouti was reduced in February 2014 when Chinese Defense Minister General Chang Wanquan signed a strategic security and defense partnership agreement with Djiboutian Defense Minister Hassan Darar Houffaneh .
Under the agreement, the country offered military facilities such as the use of the port of Djibouti by the Chinese navy.
Mr. Houffaneh said that in exchange Djibouti had requested the expansion of military cooperation so that the operational capacities of the country’s armed forces can be strengthened “in order to safeguard security in the country and help consolidate peace and security. in the sub-region “.
But an analyst in Nairobi, speaking to the Ghanaian News Agency in 2014, wondered how this arrangement would work, given that the United States and France had more or less entrenched security roles in Djibouti.
“The American and French governments have interests in Djibouti that are completely different from those of China,” he said. “This could lead to disputes between France and the United States, on the one hand, and China, on the other hand, which could jeopardize the security of East Africa. Djibouti is a crucial member of the East Africa Standby Force, which will coordinate with the African Union’s African Standby Force, and as such, President Guelleh should ensure that his country remains true to the mission of the ASF to maintain peace and security in the region.
Under President Barack Obama, the United States had bypassed the issue of a Chinese military base in Djibouti, but now, under Donald Trump and his hard line on Beijing’s global influence, the issue of the Djibouti base has taken hold. front of the stage.