Top U.S. Defense Intelligence Official: China Looking to Put More Forces in Africa

Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh, third from right, talks to Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, unseen, following a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Guelleh is in Beijing to attend the opening ceremony of the fifth Ministerial Meeting of the Forum on …
AP Photo/Diego Azubel, Pool

China is looking to place more troops in Africa as part of its long-term developmental ambitions, the top defense intelligence official said Thursday during a Senate hearing on worldwide threats to the United States.

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier said that China is looking to place more military forces in Africa and Latin America, in order to safeguard their Belt and Road Initiative — which aims to build physical infrastructure linking China to much of the developing and developed world.

He said:

I believe the Chinese, in order to safeguard their Belt [and] Road Initiative, will place military forces where they see they need that kind of capability. Africa is certainly one of those places where they have done that. The interesting thing about the way they look at Africa is sort of this long-term developmental approach, which will allow them over a long period to put more forces there.

Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-OK) asserted that China’s military ambitions “are now global.”

“For a long time, most Americans believed that…we had the best of everything. … For a long time it was the case, but now it’s not. At the same time, China’s military ambitions are now global,” he said.

“They are building bases and deploying advanced capabilities in places like Africa, in what the [Africa Command] commander called…’the number one global power competition,'” he added.

China previously denied plans to establish a military base in Djibouti, until it formally opened one in 2017.

According to a March 2016 article on Chinese publication China Military Online, Zhang Junshe, a senior colonel in the People’s Liberation Army Navy, claimed the Djibouti base was for “logistics support” and was “far from being a military base either in terms of purpose, scale or function.”

He also denied that China would not pursue “military expansion.”

“Although China is building logistics support facilities there, it won’t seek to militarily interfere in affairs of the region and other countries or pursue military expansion. China always follows the national defense policy that is defensive in nature,” he said, according to the publication.

Inhofe said Africom Commander Army Gen. Stephen Townsend told the committee last week that China views Africa as a “key power projection platform for its military.”

“I believe that’s true,” he said. “Up until just about two or three years ago, China didn’t do anything outside of its own limits, but now of course they got busy down in Djibouti. I’ve been down there. I’ve flown over that area,” he said.

“I know what they’re doing down there. It’s aggressively pursuing a naval base on the West Coast of Africa that would give China an enduring military presence in the Atlantic, and General Townsend called this his number one global power competition concern.”

Berrier said Africa is only “one area” where strategic competition with the U.S. will play out.

“It will also play out in Latin America and South America. And wherever they extend their markets, you will find that activity,” he said.

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