Chinese People’s Liberation Army personnel at the opening of China’s new military base in Djibouti in August 2017. The base is a mere 16km from Camp Lemonnier, the only permanent US military base in Africa. PHOTO | AFP
China has dismissed the US’s claims that Beijing is seeking to establish a military base in Kenya as part of a strategy to extend its power to Africa.
The US Department of Defence, popular as the Pentagon, in its annual report to Congress on China’s military, had alleged that Beijing was eyeing military logistics bases in a dozen African countries, including Kenya and neighbouring Tanzania.
But the Chinese Embassy in Nairobi on Friday, termed the Pentagon’s report propaganda and asked the US to drop its “Cold War mentality”.
The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the US and the former Soviet Union and their respective allies, which began following World War II.
The conflict remained mostly cold, with actual military combat confined to proxy wars in developing countries such as Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan.
“Chinese MFA (Ministry of Foreign affairs) has urged them to stop issuing irresponsible reports year after year, and abandon the outdated cold-war mentality and zero-sum game mindset,” said the Chinese Embassy in Nairobi.
“Their latest report is just the same as the previous fact-neglecting and bias-brimming.”
Kenya, a critical US ally in the East Africa region, is under pressure from Washington to resist the push for stronger military and economic ties with China, which is seeking greater influence in the region.
Nairobi and Washington, alongside its former colonial master Britain, have strong military engagements.
The US, for instance, has a military base in Manda Bay, Lamu while the UK has a similar base in Nanyuki.
By setting up a base in Kenya, Washington warned that Beijing wants to boost its military and economic influence over Kenya and other countries in Africa.
The warning shot comes amid an arms race between China and the US hinged on nuclear stockpiles with big implications in the balance of military power.
US military planners say China is expanding its nuclear forces and bases to limit America’s options in case of conflict.
China opened its first military base in Djibouti in 2017, with its location on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean fuelling concerns in New Delhi that it would become another of Beijing’s “string of pearls” military alliances and assets, including Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, ringing India.
It is China’s first overseas naval base, though Beijing officially describes it as a logistics facility.
Chinese Navy marines are deployed at the Djibouti base, along with armoured vehicles and artillery support.
“The PRC [People’s Republic of China] has likely considered a number of countries, including…Kenya as locations for PLA [The People’s Liberation Army] facilities,” said the Pentagon in its annual report to the US Congress seen by the Business Daily.
“A global PLA military logistics network and PLA military facilities could both interfere with US military operations and support offensive operations against the United States as the PRC’s global military objectives evolve.”
China’s reported military ambitions come amid its implementing the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative that aims to further trade with African countries.
China has been funding billions of shillings worth of infrastructure in Kenya via debt under the initiative, including the standard gauge railway between Nairobi and Mombasa.
The initiative was first announced in 2013 and is a signature foreign and economic policy launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The US has, however, been increasingly vocal in urging Kenya to be wary of heavy borrowing for the projects, warning that it can be saddled with unpayable debts to Beijing for the projects built largely with Chinese labour.
A Chinese military base in Kenya will signal an upgrade of Nairobi and Beijing relations beyond economic dealings.
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