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Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Chinese are coming, the Chinese are coming


America’s top national security officials are, I’m pretty sure, pretty occupied these days analyzing the existential threats to America’s security. From the depredations of the Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East to Donald Trump’s near dismemberment of the Republican Party (yes, folks, distortion of the traditional two-party system in this country does pose a credible threat to our national security) they have enough to keep them busy burning the midnight oil to develop strategies to mitigate these threats.
Another security issue that appears from time to time, usually brief articles on the inside pages of our mainstream media, that also poses, in my humble opinion, a potential threat to our national security, is the rise of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) as a true global power, with global presence and reach.
From its aggressive behavior in the South China Sea and other waters on its borders to the presence of its navy in the Gulf of Aden, China is slowly and inexorably inserting itself into global affairs. The latest move should give security officials pause, and it certainly argues for carving out some time to give it the study it richly deserves. In February of this year, the PRC began construction on a bulk and container port in Djibouti, just 8 miles from the base where the US Joint Task Force/Horn of Africa (JTF-HOA) is located. The base is anticipated to be completed next year, and will probably have weapons stores, ship and helicopter maintenance facilities, and even a small unit of Chinese military from which it can support its vessels taking part in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
While China’s participation in the anti-piracy operation was the first significant deployment of Chinese forces outside Asia, this latest move would be the first time China has established a land base outside neighboring or ‘near abroad’ areas, and is a definite signal that the PRC considers itself a global power.
One can only assume at this point what, besides fleet support, this base will be used for, but the fact that China has already conducted joint operations with Djibouti should give some idea. China has significant interests on the African continent, mostly related to access to desired resources. It will now have military influence in close proximity to its areas of economic interest. Whether this influence will be used in ways that might be detrimental to U.S. interest remains to be seen, but it is certainly an issue that is worthy of close study.

Having grown up during the Cold War to the refrain ‘the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming,’ I might be a bit pessimistic about such things. Only the knowledge that the people who have the responsibility to take the necessary actions to ensure our nation’s security are taking this latest move seriously will allay that pessimism.