A giant of 25,000 tons. From August 6 to 13, 2022, a strategic building of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) stops at Doraleh, the headquarters of the very secretive Chinese military base in Djibouti, Beijing’s first overseas country. The Changbai Chan, a helicopter carrier capable of carrying 800 sailors, was spotted by Preleges, a French specialist in image analysis.
The passage of this ship to this tiny state in the Horn of Africa at the entrance to the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, the nerve center of world trade, is a good example of the growing power of this base inaugurated in 2017. Our automatic detection shows more and more frequent visits from high tonnage vessels in recent months”, explains Preligens executive Aurélien Debièvre.
Located between the port of Djibouti operated by China and the new railway station, the terminus of the Djibouti-Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) link, also built and financed by Beijing, this base, according to Western intelligence, houses a real arsenal: stock various ammunition, PLA electronic warfare units, drone tracks … while the site will “accommodate less than 1,000 (troops) in this base, dedicated to logistics support”, as claimed by the challenges Djibouti’s ambassador in Paris, Ayad Moussed Yahya, several French security sources call for a maximum capacity of 5,000 people and insist the XXL means camouflage at this Doraleh site.
number one arms dealer
Beijing’s military claims on the mainland still appear unclear. If China also plans to set up a second base in Equatorial Guinea, and is the first seller of arms to Africa – these sales have increased by more than 55% since Xi Jinping came to power in 2013 – then The strategy is hybrid. Institut Montagne researcher Mathieu Duchatel observes that “hostile actions, whether they come from terrorist groups or internal conflicts in the states of the region, can lead to the PLA receiving information, evacuation of civilians, release of hostages, intimidation, May even prompt Djibouti to be used to target. Strikes. All options are on the table”.
Antoine Bondaz, his colleague at the Foundation for Strategic Research, called for “not focusing on the military when the Chinese priority is above all security. Beijing is increasing police or intelligence training on the continent that contributes to political security.” of some systems. and a guarantee of security for Chinese direct investment in Africa – China represents 16% of foreign direct investment flows on the continent, compared with 8% for France and the United States.
The Global Security Initiative, announced with great fanfare by Xi Jinping in April 2021, aims to build a security architecture with friendly countries, to recall this ambition. On the other hand, certain projects such as the China-Africa Forum on Defense and Security launched in 2018, or the “China-Horn of Africa Conference on Security” planned for 2022, leave Western chancellors in doubt.
“The declaration has implications, but not much behind,” said Rémy Marechaux, the French ambassador to Ethiopia and former director of Africa and the Indian Ocean region at Quai d’Orsay. There is no culture of intervention or difference, It seems to want to take more responsibilities on the continent but does not completely reject this strategy.”
rise of criticism
More thorny for Chinese diplomacy’s brand new boss, Qin Gang: Some heads of state are no longer silent about their criticisms of Beijing and are calling for a rethink of ties with the Middle Kingdom, which is seen as too dominating . Such is the case of Kenyan President William Ruto, who contacted Washington and Brussels and leaked to the press a public contract signed with China that was particularly unfavorable to his country. Elected in 2022, the Nairobi strongman also promised during the presidential campaign to remove Chinese-occupied jobs that could be done by Kenyans. A diplomatic coup for a country whose 73% bilateral external debt is contracted with China.
“Today we see a decrease in the attractiveness of the Chinese offer, we rejoice at the Elysee Palace. It is like a reversal of the cycle involving a financing model that is not reassuring. The result is a rise in mistrust, especially in East Africa, of the Chinese With many leaders elected on opposing agenda.”
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If Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu from 2021 is also trying to loosen Beijing’s grip on her country, this Western hope of a “return of the cycle” doesn’t sit well with Antoine Bondaz.
“it looks like a wishful thinking (Wishful thinking), he reacts. In some cases there is indeed a gap but it is not massive and bilateral trade remains structurally dynamic. And then with respect to the allegations of economic dependence, China has been able to adapt by wiping out debts to maintain its relationship with Africa. Robbers to silence China’s critics.
First donor on the continent beyond Europe
some $160 billion. This is the amount of Chinese loan commitments signed with African countries over twenty years. While these flows fell sharply in 2020, under the impact of COVID-19, they remain significant and make Beijing the continent’s leading bilateral donor ahead of the European Union. Driven by the state-owned banks China Development Bank and Eximbank, this rise in power has led China to hold 62% of sub-Saharan Africa’s bilateral external debt. A hegemony that has resulted in contractual clauses guaranteeing Beijing access to infrastructure or raw materials in the event of default by African countries. Accusing them of dragging them into a “debt trap”, the Chinese government announced plans to wipe the slate of 17 states on the continent in August 2022 and redirect about $10 billion from their special drawing rights, a monetary instrument created by the IMF, African countries benefit for