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U.S.-China Tensions Have a New Front: A Naval Base in Africa

U.S.-China Tensions Have a New Front: A Naval Base in Africa
Saturday, 10 February, 2024, 21:52

In August, Ali Bongo, then-president of the Central African nation of Gabon, made a startling revelation to a top White House aide: During a meeting at his presidential palace, Bongo admitted he had secretly promised Chinese leader Xi Jinping that Beijing could station military forces on Gabon’s Atlantic Ocean coast.

Alarmed, U.S. principal deputy national security adviser Jon Finer urged Bongo to retract the offer, according to an American national security official. The U.S. considers the Atlantic its strategic front yard and sees a permanent Chinese military presence there—particularly a naval base, where Beijing could rearm and repair warships—as a serious threat to American security.

“Any time the Chinese start nosing around a coastal African country, we get anxious,” a senior U.S. official said.

The charged exchange between Bongo and Finer in Libreville, Gabon’s capital, was just one skirmish in the great-power maneuvering between the U.S. and China in Africa. China is conducting a backroom campaign to secure a naval base on the continent’s western shores, American officials say. And, for more than two years, the U.S. has been running a parallel effort to persuade African leaders to deny the People’s Liberation Army Navy a port in Atlantic waters.