While the US claims China is the top threat to the so-called "rules-based international order," one thing Beijing lacks is a global military presence like Washington has. In fact, China only has one overseas military base on the east coast of Africa, in Djibouti.
Gen. Stephen Townsend, the head of US Africa Command, is warning that Beijing is looking to expand its military presence in Africa and wants to house a military base on the west coast.
"They’re looking for a place where they can rearm and repair warships. That becomes militarily useful in conflict," Townsend told The Associated Press. "They’re a long way toward establishing that in Djibouti. Now they’re casting their gaze to the Atlantic coast and wanting to get such a base there."
It’s not clear if China is actually planning to build a military base on the Atlantic coast. While it is possible, claims from US military leaders about countries like China and Russia should be taken lightly, as they are usually used to justify more US military expansion. But even if it were true, Beijing’s overseas military presence would still be nothing compared to Washington’s.
The US has somewhere around 800 overseas bases. In Africa alone, there are 29 US bases. While the US has been fighting wars and building drone bases in Africa, China has been investing in infrastructure and is gaining influence that Washington views as a threat.
"The Chinese are outmaneuvering the US in select countries in Africa," Townsend said. "Port projects, economic endeavors, infrastructure, and their agreements and contracts will lead to greater access in the future. They are hedging their bets and making big bets on Africa."
As the US military is shifting its focus away from counterterrorism towards "great power competition," Townsend has been trying to sell Africa as an important battleground for these new Cold Wars.
"China and Russia don’t ignore Africa, and that alone should say something," Townsend said in an interview in April.
Last year, Townsend argued that the US military footprint in Africa was more critical for countering China and Russia on the continent than economic investments. "There are some areas where we’re just not going to out-compete China. We’re not going to build bridges and roads and stadiums and palaces like they’re doing," he said.