China gets naval base in Djibouti —and Namibia?

Last month, the New York Times reported that China is to establish its first overseas military base as part of "a sweeping plan to reorganize its military into a more agile force capable of projecting power abroad." The base, in the Horn of Africa mini-state of Djibouti, will be used for policing the Gulf of Aden against piracy. The US also has 4,000 troops stationed at Djibouti's Camp Lemonnier—from which it conducts drone operations in Somalia and Yemen. Former colonial master France as well as Japan and other nations also station forces in Djibouti. (The Hill, Dec. 10) Now reports are mounting that China is seeking a second base in Africa—this time in Nambia, which currently hosts no foreign military forces.

Namibia's President Hage Geingob is said to have discussed the idea in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a China-Africa summit in Johannesburg last week. Geingob was nailed on the rumors by the BBC's quaintly aggressive HardTalk program. Geingob responded somewhat equivocally, stating that such a decision "would not be done in secret." He added that it would be considered "if the Chinese come to us with a proposal, like everyone else does... Americans asked for the same thing, we did not decide on any of them." (New Era, Namibia, Mail & Guardian Africa, SA, Dec. 9) But the US embassy Windhoek, Namibia's capital, promptly issued a statement denying that any such request had been made. (New Era, Dec. 11)

Xi Jinping did pledge to deepen cooperation with Namibia in infrastructure and development in his meeting with Geingob. These seem to mostly concern expansion of operations at Swakop Uranium's Husab mine. Swakop Uranium is majority-owned by parastatal China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Corp. (New Era, Namibia, Dec. 7) Authorities are taking harsh measures to head off labor unrest at the Husab facility. Last month, 350 workers at the mine were dismissed after a court ruled their strike illegal. (Namibia Economist, Dec. 4; Africa Intelligence, Dec. 1)

Five years ago, it was reported that China was seeking a naval base in Seychelles, to combat Indian Ocean piracy.