From Argentina to Guinea: China looking for new military bases abroad

China is accelerating its research to identify new strategic areas on which to build further military bases.

China still has only one active military base abroad. It is a naval facility opened in 2017 in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa. The Asian giant is, however, accelerating its research to identify new strategic areas on which to build further structures.

The United States, worried about possible Chinese plans, believes that, from 2018 to today, Beijing has approached at least five countries and has reviewed a dozen of them.

Strategic points and interests

The Chinese government intends to protect its global interests and challenge American military dominance, primarily in Asia. Beijing already has a global network of more than 90 ports that are partially or fully owned or operated by Chinese companies.

The point is that such infrastructure is great for supplies, trade matters and repairing ships in peacetime. However, the People’s Republic of China also needs facilities to station uniformed personnel and store weapons and military equipment.

It is no coincidence that in the last three years China has signed a secret agreement to use a naval base in Cambodia, tried to negotiate its own naval outpost in Equatorial Guinea and began building a military facility inside a port – run by the Chinese – in the United Arab Emirates (it seems that work on the latter base has frozen after some US pressure on Abu Dhabi).

Bases under construction and possible future bases

The Washington Post has put the spotlight on China’s movements in Cambodia. According to the US newspaper, Beijing is building a new base in Cambodia, for the exclusive use of its military ships. The new installation should occupy the northern part of the Cambodian base of Ream, on the Gulf of Thailand.

What will be built in Cambodia, rather than an actual military base, could be defined as a strategic hub that will allow the Chinese government to tighten its muscles in an area, the South China Sea, disputed by Vietnam and the Philippines. The content of the agreement has not yet been made known, although the first rumors have emerged.

Moving into Central Asia, Tajikistan has reportedly approved China’s construction of a new military base not far from the border with Afghanistan.

Researchers at the think tank Rand Corp assessed 108 countries as desirable and suitable sites for future Chinese bases and produced a report titled China’s Global Basing Ambitions. The report said it is “very likely” that China could establish its next overseas facility in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia or Myanmar.

Meanwhile, as anticipated, a permanent Chinese military installation in Equatorial Guinea could crown almost a decade of investments in Africa. The alarm always comes from Washington. If it were true, China would get its hands on a naval base on the Atlantic for the first time.

Finally, it is worth turning the spotlight on Argentina. Where the Asian giant is apparently working behind the scenes to obtain permission from Buenos Aires to establish a naval base in the city of Ushuaia, in the province of Tierra del Fuego, which would effectively guarantee the Dragon access to Antarctica.

Among the other countries reviewed by Beijing for the construction of a military structure we also find Singapore, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Kenya, Seychelles and Angola. Without forgetting Namibia and Vanuatu.

Read also: This is how China throttles Africa: all about the BRI “debt trap”

The base in Djibouti

China currently has only one military base abroad. At the end of November 2017, the Asian giant and Djibouti signed a strategic partnership which effectively represented the African state’s membership of the Belt and Road Initiative, a mammoth infrastructure project wanted by Xi Jinping to connect Asia to Europe and Africa.

To confirm the importance of what is at stake, just think that Xi even flew to Djibouti to meet in person with his Djiboutian counterpart, Ismail Omar Guelleh. The Chinese president promised investments and money to modernize the small partner, in exchange for the latter’s entry into the New Silk Road.

On that occasion, China obtained permission to open a military base on site, among other things a few kilometers from the United States operational detachment.

The military base in Djibouti is a strategic hub for Beijing. Meanwhile, the proximity to the American center Camp Lemonnier, near the international airport, allows the Chinese to observe US activities in Africa.

After that, the structure offers China an anchor on a continent in which to expand its influence at the expense of Washington. The geographical position of Djibouti then helps us understand why China has focused so much on this anonymous African state.

Djibouti is in fact a sort of special observatory to monitor the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. This is the crucial link for ships that must cross the Indian Ocean to enter the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal.

Read also: Global trade passes through “choke points”: what they are and why they are essential in geopolitics

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