Djibouti, a tiny country on the Horn of Africa, is about to get a little crowded. The largest and only permanent U.S. Military base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier, will soon have new neighbors. China and Saudi Arabia are building military bases at the strategic Mandab Strait that sees 10 percent of the world’s oil and 20 percent of its commercial shipping pass by annually.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported trade in crude oil and petroleum products transiting the Bab el-Mandeb has increased steadily in recent years, growing from 2.7 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2010 to almost 4.7 million bbl/d in 2014. From 2013 to 2014, trade grew by more than 20%, with an increase of more than 200,000 bbl/d in crude oil exports from Iraq to Europe contributing to higher northbound traffic.
Interactive Shipping Map: The controls at the top right let you show and hide different map layers: port names, the background map, routes (a plot of all recorded vessel positions), and the animated ships view. There are also controls for filtering and colouring by vessel type.
This is China’s first overseas naval base and an attempt to expand its global military footprint. Beijing claims the naval base, just 7 miles from Camp Lemonnier, is said to be a “logistics facility,” that will be used for peacekeeping and humanitarian missions. But in the Huffing Post, Joseph Braude points out that some observers believe the new base is aimed at protecting Beijing’s assets in the region, specifically in Libya, and toward making America think twice about interfering with Chinese interests there.
[…] America’s diminishing global military footprint has begun to affect the calculation of allies and rivals alike, and the outsized role Djibouti is poised to play in its neighborhood presents a case in point of the consequences. An examination of the changing role the country plays in American, Chinese, and Arab security policy offers a glimpse into potential conflicts as well as opportunities arising from the shift—and some steps Americans can take to prepare for both. […]
[…] But from Washington to Taipei, observers suspect that the project is more ambitious than the Chinese let on. In an interview on the national news network Taiwan Today, political analyst Lai Yueqian said, “[The base] can be used to pin down the United States and any U.S.-led organizations, and if [the U.S.] wants to intervene against China’s interests, they will have to think carefully, because China will use their military to protect their citizens and their property.” In the following clip, Yueqian elaborates on this analysis, bespeaking Taiwanese concerns about the base:
It is said that China lost billions of dollars during the 2011 Libyan civil war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi. The Libyan Herald reported in October, 2016 that there’s a massive LD 50 billion dollar development planned in Tobruk, one of Libya’s main oil terminals. The infrastructure development includes an airport, a railway to Sudan, 10,000 homes, a 300 bed hospital, a university, and the country’s largest deepwater port. The China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) who took the heaviest losses financially in 2011 are hoping for compensation. The Libyan Herald reported that funding of the housing units, hospital, and university are coming from a “consortium of Chinese investors”. Below is an exerpt from the Libya Herald:
Arial photograph of Chinese base in Djibouti via Google Earth – November 2015 Arial photograph of Chinese base in Djibouti via Google Earth – March 2017
Beida-based Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni has announced major plans for the development of Tobruk. There will be a new deep water port which will be the largest in Libya, a new commercial new airport, also to be the largest in the country, and a railway heading south to Sudan.
The three projects, which will are budgeted at LD 50 billion, will be built over a three-year period.
In addition, Thinni said in his interview with Al-Hadath TV, there are plans for 10,000 new housing units, a 300-bed hospital and development of the new university.
Funding for the three projects will come from a consortium of Chinese investors, he explained. He did not name them but on this scale they would have to be Chinese state-owned enterprises.
The contracts will be on a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis with transfer taking place after 20 years.
Other projects elsewhere will also be built on the same BOT terms, he added.
The projects will turn Tobruk, already a main oil terminal, into a major commercial hub to rival if not outstrip Misrata. The plan is seen as a financial “thank-you” to the town, the seat of the House of Representatives (HoR), for its political support both to the HoR and the Beida government.
The announcement indicates a significant development in commercial relations with China. Although it is not known which Chinese companies will be involved, Chinese constructors such as the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), have been holding out for compensation for losses incurred as a result of the 2011 revolution. Successive Libyan governments since 2011 have refused to countenance compensation but have offered to offset Chinese losses with new, additional contracts.