China is attempting to woo Equatorial Guinea into allowing them to build a military base off their coast, according to a report – a move which would give Beijing a foothold in the Atlantic, and deeply worry Washington.
U.S. intelligence officials believe that Xi Jinping, China’s president, is hoping to convince the president of the West African nation, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, to allow expansion of an existing port in the city of Bata, and conversion into a military base.
Were China to convert the Bata port into a military base, it would enable Beijing to repair and rearm their warships and other naval equipment in the same waters in which the US Eastern Seaboard sits.
‘As part of our diplomacy to address maritime-security issues, we have made clear to Equatorial Guinea that certain potential steps involving [Chinese] activity there would raise national-security concerns,’ a senior Biden administration official told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday.
Officials have previously mooted a Chinese military base in Atlantic waters as a nightmare scenario for the United States, amid tensions between the two nations over Taiwan and the origins of COVID.
China only has one overseas military base, in Djibouti, in East Africa, which it opened in 2017. That sits on the other side of the African continent, and looks out onto the waters of the Gulf of Aden.
In 2009, China upgraded a commercial port in Equatorial Guinea, in the city of Bata – the largest city on the mainland. The country’s capital, Malabo, is on an island an hour’s flight from the mainland.
Jonathan Finer, the deputy National Security Advisor, is seen on October 19 meeting the vice president, and son of the president, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue
In October Joe Biden’s deputy National Security Advisor, Jonathan Finer, was sent to Equatorial Guinea to speak to the president about the matter.
The 79-year-old president, Africa’s longest-serving leader who has ruled the country for 42 years, sent his son and presumed heir to meet Finer.
Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the 53-year-old vice president and globe-trotting international face of the regime, posted a video to Instagram showing him meeting Finer on October 19, and thanking him for his visit.
He then tweeted a photo of the silver tray that Finer gave him.
A week later, he then tweeted photos of himself meeting a Chinese delegation, and thanking them for their support for his country.
At the end of this month, a high-level delegation from Equatorial Guinea will travel to Senegal to attend the China-Africa forum, he confirmed.
The meeting will likely be watched extremely closely in Washington.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, 79 – Africa’s longest-serving leader – is seen in September 2018 meeting Xi Jinping in Beijing. China is said to be keen to open a military base in Equatorial Guinea
In April, General Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, testified before the Senate that the ‘most significant threat’ from China would be ‘a militarily useful naval facility on the Atlantic coast of Africa’.
He added: ‘By militarily useful I mean something more than a place that they can make port calls and get gas and groceries.
‘I’m talking about a port where they can rearm with munitions and repair naval vessels.’
Two months later, Maj. Gen. Andrew Rohling, commander of the U.S. Army Southern European Task Force—Africa, said that the U.S. concern ‘is that the Chinese would develop a naval base in Equatorial Guinea, which would then give them naval presence on the Atlantic.’
The Biden administration is telling Equatorial Guinea that it would be unwise to get involved in U.S.-China tensions, according to The Wall Street Journal.
They are emphasizing how the U.S. can be helpful – sending aid after an apparently accidental ammunition explosion destroyed an army base near Bata, killing 100, and stressing how much the country’s oil industry depends on U.S. technology.
The U.S. is treading a fine line, however: the Obiangs are known for their luxury and excess, and for their flaunting of human rights.
‘Teddy Nguema’, as the president’s son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue is known on Instagram, was accused by U.S. prosecutors of siphoning off more than $300 million
The 53-year-old assumed heir to the presidency frequently posts photos of himself in luxurious locations, such as this private jet
The president’s son is seen meeting Pope Francis, in an image uploaded to his Instagram
Nguema Obiang revels in his jet-setting life and high powered acquaintances
In 2014 U.S. prosecutors forced Nguema Obiang to forfeit a Malibu mansion and Ferrari, among other goods
U.S. government lawyers accused the president’s son – whose Instagram account shows him meeting world leaders such as the Pope and Israel’s prime minister; playing polo, or posing on a private jet – of amassing a fortune of more than $300 million ‘through corruption and money laundering’.
The money entered his accounts while earning less than $100,000 a year as minister of agriculture and forestry.
In a 2014 settlement, he surrendered to the federal government proceeds from a Malibu mansion, a Ferrari and other assets.
This fall, the Justice Department announced that it would steer $26.6 million of the surrendered assets back to Equatorial Guinea in the form of COVID-19 vaccines and other medical aid, bypassing the government.
China, meanwhile, is known to ask fewer questions.
President Obiang has ruled Equatorial Guinea since taking over in a coup in 1979
Chinese state-owned companies have built 100 commercial ports around Africa in the past two decades, according to Chinese government data.
American diplomats in Mauritania, along Africa’s northwest coast, have advised local authorities to turn down any effort by Beijing to use a Chinese-built port for military purposes, according to a U.S. official.
In a report to Congress this year, the Pentagon said China ‘has likely considered’ African bases in Kenya, Seychelles, Tanzania and Angola.
‘China doesn’t just build a military base like the U.S.,’ said Paul Nantulya, research associate at the Pentagon-funded Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
He told the paper: ‘The Chinese model is very, very different.
‘It combines civilian as well as security elements.’