China Expands Military Footprint in Africa

By Colin Kimberlin
Staff Writer

On March 27, China-Africa relations reached headlines when it was discovered that China has been drafting plans for development of a new naval base in Namibia. At first glance, China seems to be encroaching into a new area for maritime defense. But Robert C. O’Brien, for Real Clear Defense, notes the significance of location, as the site of the base is none other than Walvis Bay, Namibia’s only deep water port.

The location of the planned base and Namibia’s location on the continent of Africa are seen as very vital for China’s plan. O’Brien emphasized that if the Chinese Navy begins development, “[The Navy] would have the ability to patrol the critical Cape of Good Hope around Africa and Cape Horn around South America,” and possess a midway point connecting the seaways for China between the Americas, Africa, and Europe.

From a militaristic perspective, this appears a rather expansive terrain to cover. But last year, a report from the National Defense University addressed the Chinese Navy’s expansion, highlighting that a “dual-use” model, where a port can be utilized for both commercial interests as well as military need, is likely the expected model for the base. This does not come as a shock. Back in January, the Chinese State Council unofficially announced that more than 50 countries were interested in the Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road development projects.

The original scope of the maritime project was to extend as far as Mozambique, Djibouti, and Tanzania. Focus was placed on Kenya’s largest port, Mombasa, as well. But the recent news of this plan for a “dual-use” base indicates that China may be expanding past Kenya and into the Southern Atlantic region, through Namibia for commercial purposes. It appears to be a massive extension of China’s economic reach into a new region.

China does not stop there for the development plans. Brian Eyeler, from the East by Southwest, noted that Thailand has agreed to initiate development of investment vehicles for port development within 12 countries, alongside China – including seven African ports. Eyeler also noted that the Maritime Silk Road is “all about Africa.” East By Southwest seems to take a peculiar stance highlighting the rationale for this development as an attempt to break through “the connectivity bottleneck” of trade that occurs between Asia and Africa.

If China gets its way, their $40 billion Maritime Silk Road and Silk Road Economic Belt development project will expectedly link up with the military defense expansion in Namibia. As China begins to release information to the public about these projects, similar events are expected to unfold across Africa during this time of high development.

Colin Kimberlin

Contact Colin at colin.kimberlin@student.shu.edu.

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