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US general warns China is actively seeking to set up an Atlantic naval base

A top U.S. general is warning that China may be looking to extend its influence beyond the Pacific with the potential construction of a large Atlantic naval base on the western coast of Africa. 

In an interview with The Associated Press published Thursday, U.S. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who leads U.S. Africa Command (Africom), said China has been in contact with countries as far north as Mauritania and as far south as Namibia on establishing a naval facility with the capability to host submarines or aircraft carriers.

"They’re looking for a place where they can rearm and repair warships. That becomes militarily useful in conflict," Townsend said. 

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"They’re a long way toward establishing that in Djibouti," on Africa's eastern coast, he added. "Now they’re casting their gaze to the Atlantic coast and wanting to get such a base there."

The revelation comes as the latest in a series of warnings from U.S. military commanders across the globe that China aims to extend its position not only in Asia and the Pacific region, but also over countries in Africa, South America and the Middle East.  

Townsend said that China’s military site in Djibouti, built in 2016 as its first overseas base, has been increasing in size and capacity, with as many as 2,000 military personnel there as well as hundreds of Marines. 

The general also also said that China is “outmaneuvering the U.S. in select countries in Africa.” 

“Port projects, economic endeavors, infrastructure and their agreements and contracts will lead to greater access in the future,” he told the AP. “They are hedging their bets and making big bets on Africa.”

Townsend said that a potential Chinese military base on Africa's Atlantic coast “concerns me greatly” due to the relatively shorter distance to the U.S. than from the Horn of Africa. 

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The analysis comes after the Defense Department’s 2020 report on China’s military power revealed that Beijing was seeking to add naval, air and ground forces in Angola and other locations in Africa. 

The report also highlighted Africa and the Middle East as significant priorities for China in the coming years, with large amounts of oil and natural gas recently imported from these regions. 

Henry Tugendhat, a senior policy analyst with the United States Institute of Peace, told the AP that any efforts by China to extend its influence in the Atlantic could more likely be a result of pursuing economic interests, rather than to gain military power. 

The concerns come as the Biden administration has sought to maintain a touch stance on China, with Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenDemocrat says he won't introduce resolution to censure Greene after her apology Biden expanding program for allowing young Central Americans into US US, EU establish trade and technology council to compete with China MORE on Sunday indicating that he is optimistic the U.S. would be able to combat China’s global influence. 

Blinken said in a “60 Minutes” interview that China is the “one country in the world that has the military, economic, diplomatic capacity to undermine or challenge” the rules-based international order, adding that the U.S. was not trying to “contain China” but “uphold this rules-based order.”

“Anyone who poses a challenge to that order, we're going to stand up and defend it,” he said.