The tensions between the US and China are now evident in the Eastern Africa region.
This week, the two powerful states fought over claims that China is considering establishing a military base in Kenya and Tanzania.
A Pentagon report quoted by Business Daily and published on Tuesday said China is eyeing military logistics bases in a dozen countries, including Kenya and Tanzania, as it moves to build and sustain its military power in Africa and across the world.
“The PRC (Peoples Republic of China) has likely considered Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Seychelles, Tanzania, Angola, and Tajikistan as locations for PLA (People’s Liberation Army) military logistics facilities,” the Pentagon reportedly said in its annual “China Military Power” report to Congress.
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The report further said the Chinese could have started talks with the aforementioned states on setting up the bases.
China, however, came out guns blazing, denying the report and said it was the same as the previous “fact-neglecting and bias-brimming ones”.
“China is firmly opposed to those improper comments on China’s national defense and deliberate distortion of China’s strategic intentions. China’s strategic intentions are transparent and consistent,” a statement by Hua Chunying, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, said.
“China’s strengthening of national defense is to safeguard national independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, and is exercising the legitimate rights and interests of a sovereign state, which is beyond reproach,” Hua added.
In probably a way to defuse the issue, China said its military power is far behind that of the US.
“The United States spends as much on its military as nearly the next 10 countries combined. The US is just looking for excuses to seek absolute superiority and hegemony in the military field.”
“We urge the US side to abandon the outdated cold-war mentality and zero-sum game mindset, stop issuing irresponsible reports year after year, take an objective and rational view of China’s strategic intentions and national defense building, and do more things that are conducive to China-US and military-to-military relations, rather than the other way around,” the spokesperson added.
The US has bases in Mombasa and Manda Bay, and in Uganda (Entebbe).
It also has two in Djibouti (Camp Lemmonnier and Chebelley) and a non-enduring presence in Somalia.
China, the world’s second-biggest economy, also has a presence in Djibouti, which is its first overseas military base established in August 2017.
Reports indicate China is looking to build what experts call a “string of pearls” — a network of defense and commercial facilities.
In this regard, China is reported to be eyeing more bases in Africa to protect its national interests and enhance its military diplomacy.
For instance, in 2018, it built an Sh3 billion complex to train Tanzania People’s Defense Forces in Bagamoyo, commissioned by President John Magufuli. China has enjoyed close defense ties with the East African state, including naval exercises and the supply of military equipment.
Now, after terminating its mission in October 2016, the US has sent Ambassador Donald Wright to Tanzania.
The same year China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi concluded his 2018 trip to Africa with a visit to Sao Tome and Principe, where CNBC said it has interests to establish a “strategic transport hub”. The BBC in 2002 reported that the US was seeking to establish a naval base to protect its oil interests.
The recent developments thus point to a struggle for control and influence in the region between the two states.
BIO: Kibii is an experienced international affairs writer and commentator for the Star. He also sub-edits and produces Siasa, a weekend political pullout.