The United States views the Atlantic Ocean as a critical strategic frontier, and a permanent Chinese military presence in the region is seen as a serious threat to US security. China has been actively working to establish naval bases along Africa’s western coast, while the US has been working to persuade African leaders to prevent such a fleet from taking root in the Atlantic.
According to a senior American official, no African country with an Atlantic coastline has yet agreed to allow a permanent Chinese military presence. However, the US and Gabon are currently in negotiations for a security cooperation agreement, with plans for US training to help Gabon secure its borders. Meanwhile, in Equatorial Guinea, the US has flagged Chinese efforts to establish a base, with Equatorial Guinea’s ambassador in Washington stating that China has provided military equipment and training, as well as infrastructure.
While Chinese naval ships pass freely through international waters and Chinese companies have built around 100 commercial ports in Africa since 2000, only one African port serves as a permanent base for Chinese ships and troops: Djibouti’s seven-year-old facility. The Biden administration is expected to find ways to legally provide incentives to thwart China’s military ambitions. US officials are closely monitoring the situation and will likely take action if they determine that China is planning on expanding its presence in the region.
In addition to security cooperation with Gabon, the US is also hosting Gabon in U.S.-led West and Central Africa naval exercises aimed at helping coastal states fight piracy and illegal fishing. This is part of the US’ ongoing efforts to counteract the influence of the Chinese army in the Atlantic Ocean and prevent China from establishing military bases in African countries with coastal access.