China is reportedly in talks to persuade Equatorial Guinea's government about potentially building a military base, making it their first naval base in the Atlantic Ocean and the second in Africa overall. The other was a $590 million facility in Djibouti in 2017, less than 10 miles from the most extensive US defense base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier. This base provides China access in the Gulf of Aden and Suez Canal and would secure the country a port to re-arm and refit their warships.
This classified report has raised the alarm for the US intelligence as China has already upgraded a commercial deep-water facility in the port city of Bata through investing in the Bata Port Rehabilitation and Expansion Project from 2006. According to top US commander in Africa General Stephen Townsend, the new military base would position the Chinese right opposite the American east coast and pose a 'most significant threat' to the US. He further added that the port would host submarines or aircraft carriers which would be a great advantage for China.
China is on a mission to establish naval facilities in the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean and has approached many African countries from Mauritania to Namibia. Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh may have already been susceptible to the 'debt-trap', a means for China to bail out countries in exchange for state assets. Gen. Townsend believes that 'the Chinese base [in Djibouti] is turning into a platform to project power across the continent and its waters.' Former American military officer Edward Erickson has also raised concern over China's increasing influence around the globe.
John Finer, Deputy US National Security Advisor, attempted to persuade the Equatorial Guinea government against granting permission for the Chinese to establish a naval base along the country's coast. The former Spanish colony is one of the smallest countries in Africa, yet it is the wealthiest in the sub-Saharan mainland region due to its sizeable offshore oil recourses. However, American oil companies have extracted these oil reserves, leaving half of the country's natives poor and without access to clean drinking water.
The US is against the Chinese gaining access to this region, significantly compromising their domination. However, a senior fellow at the international security program of New America, Loannis Koskinas, states, 'My sense is that there's more to it than just the military base. This is likely a concern of what China does with a military footprint in West Africa.' Equatorial Guinea is governed by an autocratic and corrupt state, therefore, making it easy for a foreign power like China to present itself and negotiate well. China has already used that to its advantage. The relationship between Equatorial Guinea and China is that of a strategic partnership with China, having developed at least ten different projects, including the deep-water facility and providing the country's army with arms and weapons.
While the US is concerned over the looming possibility of this naval base, they maintain that they do not expect Equatorial Guinea to cut ties with China but rather keep the nature of their relationship within bounds that are non-threatening to the US. Whether the US will successfully persuade Equatorial Guinea's government from proceeding with the military base project with China is a situation yet to unfold. Especially since their relationship with the US is not in the most favorable condition for the US due to the corruption allegations, Washington pointed at Equatorial Guinea's Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue. On the other hand, China's persistence and greed that many African leaders possess could lead to the project's success. Only time will tell.