China is planning to build military bases in Africa to support the logistical network for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA’s) across the Indian Ocean with Kenya among the countries considered for the plot, a report released by the United States Department of Defence (DoD) on Tuesday shows.
The annual report dubbed Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2020 submitted to the US congress lists Kenya alongside Tanzania, Angola, Seychelles, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, and Tajikistan as potential locations for PLA military logistics facilities.
As it stands, China only has one military base in Africa in Djibouti launched in 2017 which also counts as the PLA Navy’s first overseas military base.
“China is seeking to establish a more robust overseas logistics and basing infrastructure to allow the PLA to project and sustain military power at greater distances,” reads the report.
According to the US DoD, the idea behind setting up the bases is to facilitate the movement of international public goods like support to United Nations (UN) operations and to help secure China’s interests abroad.
“A global PLA (People’s Liberation Army) military logistics network could both interfere with US military operations and support offensive operations against the United States as the PRC’s global military objectives evolve,” the Pentagon says in the report.
“China has probably already made overtures to Namibia, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands, it said, adding the known focus areas of PLA planning are along the Seal Lines of Communication from China to the Strait of Hormuz, Africa, and the Pacific Islands,” further reads the report.
The thinking behind China’s plan is to leverage its military strength to realise its foreign policy objectives.
“Beijing uses the One Belt One Road (OBOR) intitiative to support its strategy of national rejuvenation by seeking to expand global transportation and trade linkages to support its development and deepen its economic integration with nations along its periphery and beyond,” the Pentagon said.
Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is part of the Belt and Road Initiative which Kenya developed with expensive loans from Beijing despite concerns over the viabilty of the projects raised by both local and international economists.
The US in particular has warned that Kenya is falling into China’s “debt trap policy” which it claims is geared towards shoehorning African countries to its side as new global trade alignments begin to take shape.
The government led by President Uhuru Kenyatta has on several occasions dismissed the criticism saying it is not substantiated as the most expensive project in Kenya’s history will spur economic growth.
President Kenyatta, in particular, has hit out at foreign and local media for referring to the SGR as the “Railroad to Nowhere’ based on the fact that Phase 2A of the project terminates in Duka Moja, a remote town 20 kilometres away from Suswa.
“Let me tell you, the SGR is not a railway to nowhere. Twenty years when I come back here Suswa will be a vibrant town. There is evidence to prove that railroads transform the economic fortunes of the towns they pass through,” Uhuru said in October 2019 while launching Phase 2A of the SGR.
Currently, Kenya plays host to US (Camp Simba, Lamu County) and British (Nanyuki, Laikipia County) military bases.
The US and the British are likely to launch a spirited fight against China setting up one too in Kenya as they wouldn’t envisage a rival strengthening its military presence without resisting.