Radio Free Asia has reported that China is building a new military port at Bata in the Central African Nation of Equatorial Guinea (EQG), the first Chinese port on West Africa’s Atlantic coast. US is concerned about China’s first military presence opposite the east coast of America and only 6,000 miles from Washington. This is a strategic location for China.
Professor Bo Hu of Peking University suggested that Bata might be useful to “pin down” US forces enroute to the Indo-Pacific. Since 1979 EQG is governed by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema and his son “Teddy”; the President’s other son Gabriel Obiang Lima is the minister for mines and hydrocarbons, EQG is a member of OPEC. According to the World Bank, EQG is “well endowed with arable land and mineral resources ranging from gold, oil, uranium, diamond, and columbite-tantalite, and notably petroleum discovered in the 1990s”, they also hold natural resources of gas, timber, bauxite, clay, sand and gravel. All resources very useful in an expanding and expansionist China.
China is expanding its interests in worldwide ports, in September it was reported the Shanghai International Port Group took over operations at Haifa, Israel, on a lease of 25 years. Chinese giant COSCO Shipping has acquired a 35% minority interest in Hamburg’s large container operator HHLA Tollerort, expected to become the preferred hub of COSCO’s European shipping operations. In August 2020 a COSCO press release stated “CSP Abu Dhabi Terminal, the first overseas greenfield project of COSCO SHIPPING Ports Limited (CSP), has announced the start of a direct, weekly service to several ports across Europe and the Indian Subcontinent”, but recently this port development at Khalifa, UAE, was halted after US officials Brett McGurk and Jake Sullivan intervened when satellite imagery apparently showed hidden construction at a terminal operated by COSCO.
In Greece, the Piraeus Port is part of the China’s Maritime Silk Road, COSCO have been managing the site for approximately ten years, today a Chinese flag hangs over the entrance; China’s stake in Greece’s and Europe’s fourth largest port has now grown to 67%.
Ports are considered one of the three pillars of sea power, hence global power, and Beijing is reported to have over 100 ports in 63 countries. Since the completion of Djibouti, the PLAN installation capable of supporting an aircraft carrier, Beijing has eyes on future ports in Tanzania, Cambodia and Kiribati in the Central Pacific. COSCO’s operations already reach from the Balkans to the Mediterranean, through the Middle East to South East Asia. In an August 2021 OpEd for the Daily Mail Liam Fox, former UK Defence Secretary, said, “Some of these (ports) are at key locations for maritime trade—which also means energy trade—giving Beijing strategic dominance without having to deploy a single soldier, ship or weapon.” Craig Singleton, a China expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Voice of America “These port linkages allow Beijing to exert political influence not only in the country hosting the port, but in many cases the surrounding countries as well”.
According to the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), Piraeus opened the gate to the Belt and Road Initiative in the Balkans. China now has 136 projects across Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Montenegro, North Macedonia and especially Serbia. Projects include telecoms, broadcasting and films, mining of natural resources (copper, oil, sulphur, gas), infrastructure (airports, railways, highways, shipping fleets), energy (solar, wind, water, thermal and hydro-power, education and establishment of Confucius Institutes, vaccines, environmental and military donations. China has numerous excuses for geo-strategic port development, monitoring and prevention of piracy or climate change, and social responsibility. China has allies in Russia, Pakistan and SAARC.
Worldwide interest will look towards counter-alliances such AUKUS or the Quad, and India’s lead to defend the frontier of freedom in the Indo-Pacific with some form of buffer port plans. .