The Chinese base aims to serve as a supply point in addition to giving Beijing a military advantage to dominate the periphery of the Indian Ocean and the African continent
The “Eastern Quad” of the United States, Israel, India and the United Arab Emirates is a counterpoint to Beijing’s imperialist tendencies that “the flag follows trade”. In 2017, China took control of the port of Doraleh (Djibouti) as part of its loan renegotiations following its investments in the country through commercial ports and a rail project connecting Ethiopia. The past few years have seen China strategically woo Israel and the Emirates in an attempt to establish a base there. India and the United States have launched the “Eastern Quad” and China’s quest for a new military base in the Emirates that would link the Strait of Hormuz and the southern Red Sea has been halted. However, just as important is its Djiboutian base. Given China’s economic footprint in Africa, the base is a “logistical support facility” with a 99-year lease.
The takeover of Djibouti highlights China’s hegemonic wishes and its model of international relations. This contradicts the functionality of bilateral or multilateral relations in which aid or trade precedes genuine strategic agreements and alliances or partnerships. In order to camouflage its presence, China hosted the China-Africa Defense and Security Forum in 2018, during which it announced the establishment of a “China-Africa Peace and Security Fund” to support the peacekeeping and naval presence for anti-piracy operations. A year later, Egypt and China signed an agreement to modernize the Suez Canal. Both of these developments were aimed at Project China’s “soft approach” to project its “peaceful rise”. However, as geopolitical developments unfolded, it abandoned its “soft approach” and built naval jetties northwest of the base.
According to media reports, the Djibouti base is heavily fortified with aircraft hangars and bunkers, in addition to having a helipad, ammunition depot, and cyber and electronic warfare facilities. It can accommodate large warships and has repair facilities for PLA-Navy. It is important because of its geographic importance. Seven miles from the American base (Camp Lemonier), it connects the main transit routes, mainly the Gulf of Aden, giving way to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal leading to European markets. In the eastern direction, it gives way to the western Indian Ocean. The Chinese base is a dual-use port aimed at serving as a supply and resupply point in addition to giving Beijing a military advantage to dominate the periphery of the Indian Ocean and the African continent. It gives China a platform to conduct operations during open hostilities.
One can strategically read China’s emerging contours of its military tactical strategy by joining the “points” of its naval installations in its ports. It aims to challenge the Indian and American military presence in the Indo-Pacific region by seizing peripheral areas. Its military presence in the large Coco Islands, Hambantota, Djibouti and the ports of Gwadar, apart from its recent military base in the autonomous province of Eastern Gorno-Badakhchan in Tajikistan, in the Pamir mountains, clearly displays its “defensive walls”. external ”in the event of a possible conflict with the United States on the question of Taiwan or with India. It could expand its defense facilities to include Iranian ports to geographically cover the Strait of Hormuz. These naval installations could well serve as “points of distraction” for the adversary’s navies when they could concentrate on their attempts to grab land elsewhere.
Tactically, Djibouti and the ports of Hambantota can be seen as “security ports” to prevent the south from sabotaging its “economic corridor” – the CPEC. On average, China imports about 80 percent of its oil supplies by sea, including about 77 percent through the Straits of Malacca. CPEC aims to connect Gwadar to Kashgar by a cross road and rail network to overcome this route and its bottlenecks. It is the protection of this corridor that its presence in the Gulf of Aden and the Persian Gulf is an important step that can help Beijing during a conflict in the Indo-Pacific or with the conflict of Pakistan with India . Further, to shift the balance of power in its favor, it could attempt to either disrupt supply chain routes or cause unacceptable damage to the region’s submarine cables affecting India and other countries. other countries in the region.
To ensure the successful implementation of his plans, he simultaneously announced the creation of tribunals for commercial disputes within the framework of its Maritime Silk Route (MSR). Thus, in the event of a conflict of interest between the host countries and China, these courts would settle the disputes. and they would target Chinese geopolitical interest and therefore only aim to deepen China’s strategic penetration. This is in blatant contradiction with the WTO appeals bodies whose rulings are acceptable to countries around the world.
Moreover, China’s relations with Djibouti are only the tip of the Chinese expansionist iceberg. Over the past three decades, China has dramatically increased its footprint in the African region. If we look at the statistics, in 2020, China’s trade share was 16.4% of Africa’s total trade with the world, and before that, between 2000-2019, it granted African countries a loan of $ 153 billion, most of which did not include financial transactions and was instead “circular debt”. Through its opaque debt policies, China has made it compulsory for countries to award contracts to Chinese companies and give jobs to its nationals. To this end, it transferred the amount of the “loan” to its Crown corporations.
As the transactional nature of Chinese investment and trade continues in Africa and elsewhere, one can easily foresee more air or naval bases on the African continent, complicating the security scenario for Asia as a whole. First, it downplays the American presence in the region and other actors such as the EU, to promote a democratic world order based on equality and justice. The Chinese presence in Africa is successfully fueling anti-Western and risky “South-South” narratives. China also aims to extract the natural resources of these African countries, which is evident from the fact that more than 80 percent of its imports from Africa consist of oil and raw materials.
Moreover, the projection of multisectoral power ranging from military presence to economic ties is a force multiplier in Beijing’s attempts to advance its “One China” policy. For example, Liberia (2003), Chad (2006) and The Gambia (2016) severed relations with Taiwan and obtained funding from development assistance. The same convergences were observed in the African voting model at the UN on the issue of human rights violations by China in Xinjiang. These countries saw the violations as “attempts to fight terrorism”. In June 2020, at the UN Human Rights Council, twenty-five African countries sided with China on the issue of China’s national security law in Hong Kong. Not much can be expected from these countries at the UN in the event of China’s annexation of Taiwan.
In addition, Chinese nationals are at the head of four United Nations agencies: the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations United for Industrial Development (UNIDO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Their future decisions must also be monitored in the event of Chinese hostilities. Memories of WHO chief Tedros Adhanom and the coronavirus are still fresh.
(The author is an assistant professor at the Central University of the Punjab, Bathinda. The opinions expressed are personal.)