January 15, 2016

China gets first overseas military base but has a long way to go to catch up hundreds of US bases

China has sealed a deal to build its first military base in Djibouti, a former French colony strategically located across from Yemen on the Red Sea, squeezed between Eritrea and Somalia.

Confirming years of under-the-radar suspicions, AFRICOM commander Gen. David Rodriguez told The Hill that the "logistics hub" and airfield will let China "extend their reach" into Africa over the course of an initial 10-year contract. Currently, The Hill observed, China can't do much more than stage some naval patrols out of Djibouti ports.

* China gets first overseas military base but has a long way to go to catch up hundreds of US bases
* China is the second largest economic power in nominal terms and first in purchasing power parity
* despite China's slowdown it should still grow faster than the USA over the next few decades
* China will be using trillions in investment and trade to get more overseas bases and access
* China is and will build many ports, airports and global infrastructure
* China military base presence will expand

As December's Forum on China-Africa Cooperation revealed, the Middle Kingdom wants to ensure privileged access to that kind of future. Although it's hard to unravel the details, Beijing used the Forum to pledge $60 billion in loans and export credits.

AFRICOM's (USA military command in Africa) top three priorities reach from one end of Northern Africa to the other:
  1. "neutralizing" the jihadist al-Shabab group in Somalia to the east,
  2. while "containing" enemies like ISIS in Libya and
  3. containing Boko Haram, to the west, in Nigeria and the greater Lake Chad region
Although al-Shabab's influence has been significantly reduced, nearby Ethiopia just booted the U.S. out of a drone base Washington had hoped to expand in the southerly town of Arba Minch. In other words, as China sets up shop in Djibouti, the U.S. finds itself restricted to that country for its eastern African operations.

Djibouti hosts the largest American permanent military base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier, which is home to more than 4,000 personnel - mostly part of the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa.

Even though France and Japan also launch operations from the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, it is China's military ambitions that are piquing interests.

In 2013, trade between China and Africa totaled roughly $200 billion, with Chinese electronics goods and textiles flowing into African nations, while African natural resources were shipped off to China. Remarkably, Chinese-African trade was more than double the trade level between the United States and Africa.

In August 2015 Obama announced that U.S. companies had committed to invest $14 billion in Africa. China had made an estimated $75 billion in investments China has made in Africa from 2000 to 2011. The 2000 to 2011 total does not include the recent infrastructure projects that China is building.

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