'Significant' consequences if China takes key port in Djibouti: U.S. general

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FILE PHOTO – Djibouti and Chinese national flags are seen in front of the portrait of China’s late Chairman Mao Zedong at Tiananmen Square, ahead of a welcoming ceremony for Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh, in Beijing, China November 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee

(Reuters) – The top U.S. general for Africa told lawmakers on Tuesday that the military could face “significant” consequences should China take a key port in Djibouti, as Beijing becomes increasingly muscular in Africa in an effort to expand its influence.
Last month, Djibouti ended its contract with Dubai’s DP World, one of the world’s biggest port operators, to run the Doraleh Container Terminal, citing failure to resolve a dispute that began in 2012.
DP World called the move an illegal seizure of the terminal and said it had begun new arbitration proceedings before the London Court of International Arbitration.
During a U.S. congressional hearing on Tuesday, which was dominated by concerns about China’s role in Africa, lawmakers said they had seen reports that Djibouti seized control of the port to give it to China as a gift.
China has already built a military base in Djibouti, just miles from a critical U.S. military base.
“If this was an illegal seizure of that port, what is to say that government wouldn’t illegally terminate our lease before its term is up,” said Representative Bradley Byrne, a Republican.
In a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Byrne said he was concerned about China’s influence in Djibouti and the impact it would have on U.S. military and intelligence assets.
Djibouti is strategically located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal.
Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, the top U.S. military commander overseeing troops in Africa, said that if China placed restrictions on the port’s use, it could affect resupplying the U.S. base in Djibouti and the ability of Navy ships to refuel there.
“If the Chinese took over that port, then the consequences could be significant,” Waldhauser said during the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee hearing.
Djibouti hosts a U.S. military base that is home to about 4,000 personnel, including special operations forces, and is a launch pad for operations in Yemen and Somalia.
“There are some indications of (China) looking for additional facilities, specifically on the eastern coast … So Djibouti happens to be the first – there will be more,” Waldhauser said.
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he did not know anything about the port situation, but China’s cooperation with Africa was neither aimed at any third party nor aimed at excluding anyone.
“We hope that the U.S. side can objectively and fairly view China’s development and China-Africa cooperation,” he told a daily news briefing.
China has sought to be visible in Africa, including through high-profile investment in public infrastructure projects, as it deepens its trade ties.
Waldhauser said that the United States would be unable to match the scale of that investment throughout the continent, noting Beijing’s construction of shopping malls, government buildings and even soccer stadiums.
“We’ll never outspend the Chinese in (Africa),” Waldhauser said, noting some of the Chinese investments in Djibouti.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday the United States will give more than $533 million in humanitarian aid for victims of conflicts and drought in Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and the West and Central African countries bordering Lake Chad.
But Tillerson contrasted the United States’ work on the African continent, which he said promoted “sustainable growth,” with that of China, which recently pledged $124 billion for its Silk Road plan to expand links between Asia, Africa, Europe and other places.
Tillerson said China’s investment in Africa “encouraged dependency.”
This year, the U.S. military put countering China, along with Russia, at the center of a new national defense strategy.
The Pentagon said China was a part of “revisionist powers” that “seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models.”
Waldhauser said he was in the process of rewriting U.S. military strategy in the region with China in mind.
“China has been on the African continent for quite some time, but we as a combatant command have not dealt with it in terms of a strategic interest,” Waldhauser said.
“We are taking baby steps in that regard,” he added.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Robert Birsel)

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  1. The best solution to tyrannical/communist china dictatorship, the cancer of the world that has metastasized all over the world, is to promote formation of democratic, free market capitalism oriented governments all over the world. For example in Africa, over 99% of the governments are non democratic, tyrannical like Chinese government. BIRDS OF THE SAME FEATHER FLOCK TOGETHER. A good starting point is to facilitate as soon as possible the formation of a democratic government in Ethiopia by removing the current terrorist, tyrannical and criminal government TPLF/EPRDF ASAP. Ethiopia is a very important country in Africa because it is the headquarter of African Union. If it becomes a vibrant democracy which will led to prosperity, innovation, advancement in every aspect of life, and KICKING OUT OF ALL CHINESE OWNED COMPANIES AND REPLACEING THEM BY COMPANIES FROM DEMOCRATIC COUNTRIES SUCH AS USA, other African leaders who has to come to Ethiopia few times a year for a meeting will be very impressed by Ethiopia and will be inclined to give up dictatorship, tyranny, state capitalism, KICK OUT ALL CHINESE COMPANIES FROM AFRICA AND REPLACE THEM BY COMAPNIES FROM DEMOCRATIC COUNTRIES SUCH AS USA and embrace democracy/liberty/freedom and free market capitalism.

  2. Dear Truth
    I read your opinion and thought to share with you mine. When it come to the solution for Ethiopia, I have to say that it is no once business than we Ethiopians. And if you expect that USA or China will bother about making our Government responsible, you simply are naive and it will never happen. As a human being if we don’t strive to get our Government accountable , we are day dreamers and will continue to dream. It will get even worse.
    As to democratic countries that you mentioned above, they are interested only for their self interest. A very good case in point will be Saudi Arabia which is a partner of USA. Is Saudi Arabia democratic not in any measure!Did the USA tried to force them diplomatically? I don’t think so as this will not benefit the USA. Finally be it China or USA they are working hard to satisfy their only interest and my brotherly advice to you is they both are the same when it comes to Ethiopian’s interest. How I wish my Ethiopian brothers and sisters “neke Bilulign”.

  3. Alex,
    Thank you very much for your response to my post and for sharing your views. There is a saying, “NO MAN IS AN ISLAND.” I will take that further, “NO COUNTRY IS AN ISLAND.” As an individual needs to be part some community in order to survive a country has to be part of friendly countries in order to survive. Values are what hold individuals together in a community and what bonds countries culturally, politically and economically. The first question every Ethiopian should ask is what are Ethiopian values and with which countries do Ethiopian values harmonize. The vast majority of Ethiopians value democracy, freedom, liberty, justice, meritocracy, free market capitalism and religious freedom. The US government and the vast majority of Americans value the same. In contrast Chinese government is anti democracy, anti freedom, anti liberty, anti justice, anti meritocracy, pro state capitalism and anti free market capitalism and the #1 PROSECUTOR OF CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS IN THE WORLD.
    China is pouring billions of dollar in Ethiopia b/c it is benefiting Chinese government. However their action is benefiting Ethiopian government as well. It is a perfect case of YOU SCRATCH MY BACK AND I WILL SCRATCH YOUR BACK. In the mean time Ethiopian people are thrown under the bus.
    US also wants to invest in Ethiopia for its own benefit. US government and people thinking is very different than Chinese government and people. US is a primarily consumer based free market capitalism. US companies that invest in Ethiopia get rich if and only if the Ethiopian people, consumers, get rich. US companies have a great incentive to enrich every day Ethiopian people. Otherwise, their model of economy business will not survive. Moreover, 110% of Chinese businesses are owned by Chinese government whereas 110% of American businesses are owned by individuals among them are thousands of Ethiopian American. Due to lack of time I will stop here.

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