China is studying the possibility of building its first military base on the Atlantic Ocean, according to classified intelligence reports seen by the the Wall Street newspaper.
The proposed host for the military base is Equatorial Guinea, a small country in Central Africa of about 1.4 million people. Politically, Equatorial Guinea has been a one-party state led by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasongo for 42 years. The country consistently ranks among the worst in the world for human rights, with Freedom House scoring zero for political rights, lower than Eritrea, Iran or Chad. Its economy is dominated by resource extraction, with crude oil exports accounting for 90 percent of government revenues. China is Equatorial Guinea’s largest trading partner.
The precise site is believed to be the small deep-water port of Bata, the largest city in the country. The commercial port was renovated and enlarged from 2008 to 2014 with Chinese funding. Another infrastructure project extended the road network from Bata to Niefang in the east of the country. Together, the projects have laid the foundations for greater commercial penetration of Central Africa, particularly Gabon and the Republic of Congo.
A military base in Equatorial Guinea would represent a clear geopolitical victory for Beijing by expanding its global network of refueling, repair and resupply sites, thus increasing the blue water capacities of the PLA Navy (PLAN). Currently, there is only one such facility, located in Djibouti, a country that is home to many other foreign armies, including those of Japan, France and the United States. A second facility has long been rumored for the port of Gwadar in Pakistan, which serves as the hub of the China-Pakistan economic corridor. At this stage, the basic infrastructure has already been laid in Gwadar; all that remains is for the PLAN vessels to start making regular stops.
Other attempts to convert civilian facilities (almost always built by Chinese state-owned companies over the past two decades) into military sites have been popular in the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Seychelles, Tanzania, and Angola. .
The American response
Unsurprisingly, the possibility of a new PLAN base is rejected by the US authorities, and this is doubly true in the case of Equatorial Guinea due to its relative proximity to Washington’s backyard. However, the United States’ response in this case describes how the emerging “in light of the cold war” dynamic between China and the United States could create problems for other United States foreign policy objectives, including the promotion of human rights and a ârules-based international orderâ.
First of all, relations between the United States and Equatorial Guinea were a tense affair during the second half of President Mbasongo’s reign. Despite the continued presence of the US oil majors, the country has often been cited for a litany of human rights violations; for example, torture, arbitrary detention and severe restrictions on the media and on peaceful assembly. Such issues have produced overt breaks in bilateral relations, such as a long-standing DOJ case against Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue – the president’s son – where the vice president was convicted of bribery while in office. was Minister of Agriculture and Forestry in 2011.
Bilateral relations with the United States contrast sharply with those of China, which, like elsewhere, is without commitment in terms of good governance. China has provided valuable funding to meet Equatorial Guinea’s infrastructure needs, and provided equipment and training to the country’s (often brutal) security forces, which happen to be led by the same Vice President Mangue who is the frequent target of Western sanctions (the UK joined the DOJ earlier this year, enforcing unilateral sanctions for a slew of lavish purchases, including Michael Jackson’s jeweled white glove).
These divergent diplomatic priorities complicate US efforts to convince the government of Equatorial Guinea to repel Beijing’s attempts to establish a military base. In a development strongly reminiscent of the Cold War, Washington has recently changed course, adopting a conciliatory rather than berating tone, possibly due to growing geopolitical concerns. Assets seized in Vice President Mangue’s previous investigation have been redistributed across the country in the form of COVID-19 vaccine assistance, and a recent improvement in State Department human trafficking scores could open the way for more official Washington maritime aid.
The United States and other Western countries have another kind of leverage: the ability to crack down on or look away from vast amounts of allegedly illicit wealth held by the president, his family and close associates. This wealth has already produced forensic calculations in the United States, France and the United Kingdom.
This is where Washington could actually tighten the screws on the regime if it wanted to. However, this would almost ensure that Equatorial Guinea remains firmly in China’s orbit for the foreseeable future. Herein lies the threat of this new Cold War dynamic to Washington’s progressive foreign policy goals: The better standards of governance envisioned by initiatives like Build Better World can create geopolitical headaches for the Pentagon in s. alienating strategically valuable authoritarian regimes. It’s a dynamic that we have to get used to. Because even if Washington manages to repel Beijing’s charm offensive this time around, there is no shortage of militarily viable commercial ports in the world, and there is no shortage of states that will seek to win by playing the superpowers against each other. not.
This article was published by Geophysical Monitor.com