Despite the commander’s warning, it is unclear where – if anywhere – the base will be built FILE PHOTO: A Chinese destroyer takes part in joint Iran-Russia-China naval drills in the Indian Ocean, December 27, 2019 © AFP / Iranian Army Office

US Africa Command chief General Michael Langley has said that the US “can’t let” China open a naval base in western Africa. The general did not publicly state where such a base might be located, but said that it would place China “at an advantage” over the US.

Speaking at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Langley said that he would not discuss the details of China’s alleged plans in public. However, he stated that a Chinese naval base on the Atlantic coast of Africa would “change the whole calculus … of protecting the [US] homeland.”

China is a major naval power in the Pacific, and is the largest naval power in the world in terms of fleet size, according to a 2022 Pentagon report. A base in west Africa would place Chinese vessels within roughly equal distance of both US coasts.

“Geostrategically, it would place them at an advantage,” Langley told the committee. “Right now we have a decisive advantage. We can’t let them have a base on the west coast as it would change the dynamics.”

US threat perception report: Russia and China dominate Washington’s mindset US threat perception report: Russia and China dominate Washington’s mindset

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US threat perception report: Russia and China dominate Washington’s mindset

China established its first overseas naval base in 2017, opening a facility in the east African nation of Djibouti. US officials have since claimed that Beijing is planning similar bases in 14 countries, including two – Equatorial Guinea and Angola – on Africa’s west coast. A Wall Street Journal report in 2021 – backed up by Langley’s predecessor – identified Equatorial Guinea as the most likely location for the base.

However, Equatorial Guinea Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue denied the rumors. “China is a model of a friendly country and a strategic partner but, for now, there is no such agreement,” he stated at the time.

“Remember also that Equatorial Guinea is a sovereign and independent country and can sign cooperation agreements with any friendly country,” he added.

Although the pace of investment has slowed since the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, China loaned approximately $126 billion to African countries between 2001 and 2018, and spent $41 billion on foreign direct investment there, according to figures from the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI). Under its Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing has built ports, roads and other infrastructure in 43 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Amid China’s growing influence on the continent, the Biden administration published its ‘Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa’ last August, and American officials have made a flurry of diplomatic overtures to African leaders in recent months. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Niger and Ethiopia this week, while Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo is set to visit Ghana and Nigeria this month, in a bid to convince local officials to cut trade ties with Russia.