China Swallowed Islands In The South China Sea. Now It Wants To Eat Djibouti Like Groceries

Analysis

China and Djibouti having a wonderful time on a tropical beach

Photo Illustration: Brad Howard / Photo: DoD

The Chinese military has sent a clear message for the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea: Your FONOPs will not be fun ops. Now, it appears likely that China's aggressive naval ambitions may spread beyond its artificial islands to the country's nascent military presence in Africa.


Just two days after the Navy destroyer USS McCampbell sailed near islands disputed in the South China Sea, People's Liberation Army Navy officer Senior Capt. Zhang Junshe issued a stern warning that the United States would be to blame for any kinetic encounter between U.S. and PLAN vessels — the latest in a series of escalating encounters between the two navies that included a suggestion from another senior Chinese military officer that their vessels should attack U.S. Navy ships outright.

"Both countries warships definitely have to come into close proximity and it's easy for there to be a misunderstanding or an error of judgment, even a collision," Junshe, currently a researcher at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, told Reuters on Wednesday, a reference to the October 2018 near miss between two vessels.

"If there is a collision, the root cause is the United States."

U.S. Navy images of the "unsafe and unprofessional" encounter between the USS Decatur and a Chinese destroyer that took place in October 2018 while the U.S. warship was sailing near Gaven Reef in the South China Sea gCaptan/Twitter

But while speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Junshe made the case for developing China's man-made islands in response to U.S. Navy FONOPs, a move that, as the Associated Press notes, runs counter to the 2015 pledge by Chinese President Xi Jinping to halt the development of airfields and other fortifications.

"If our on-island personnel and installations come under threat in future, then we necessarily will take measures to boost our defensive capabilities," he said.

The jousting between the PLAN and U.S. Navy in the South China Sea may be unsurprising, but the explicit development of military installations by the PLAN as a challenge to U.S. naval power likely won't certainly stay confined to the artificial islands there. In Djibouti, analysts see a one-year-old PLAN military base there as a signal of intent to militarize its growing influence in Africa and project naval power across the world — strategic elements that make the Horn of Africa the next locale for a Sino-U.S. clashes.

China has shown intense interest for years in developing a foothold in the Horn of Africa, a critical strategic choke point not just for global trade, but for the U.S. counter-terror presence across the Middle East and North Africa.

But in recent years, just as China was transforming reefs and sandbars into airstrips and fortifications in the South China Sea, the PLAN was laying the groundwork for a military expansion in Africa by gobbling up Djibouti's external debt, which has increased significantly since 2014, according to the Washington Post; three years later, the Chinese military established a base next to the Doraleh Multipurpose Port.

"China's military involvement in the Horn of Africa, primarily consisting of anti-piracy missions, began a decade ago. Today, in addition to anti-piracy operations, declassified analysis from CNA posits that China's naval facility in Djibouti will support four other key missions: intelligence collection, non-combat evacuation operations, peacekeeping operation support, and counterterrorism," as Tyler Headley points out in The Diplomat. "All of these objectives are in line with a nascent but escalating policy of global military engagement stretching from the South China Sea to East Africa."

While observers have fretted over the possibility of China supplanting the U.S. as the primary great power trade partner to the strategically-important country, Junshe's comments will likely reverberate from the South China Sea all the way to the Horn of Africa. Indeed, so-called "great power competition" that defines the current U.S. national security posture will only increase in the region, competition that will likely bring about the same naval encounters signaled by Junshe and other Chinese military officials.

"Waterfront property in the African countries along the Red Sea seems to be an increasingly hot commodity," as Congressional Research Service analyst Lauren Ploch told Task & Purpose in early 2018. "The U.S. and France have had military facilities in Djibouti for over a decade, but the country is getting increasingly crowded. China just opened a base and Saudi Arabia is in talks for one."

With Camp Lemonnier the only permanent U.S. military installation on the entire African continent and a key nerve center for U.S. counterterrorism operations conducted by Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, harassment by Chinese naval vessels may prove a undue burden to the U.S. military personnel deployed there. So, will the Chinese military eat Djibouti like groceries? Or will the U.S. Navy start digging in for some serious un-fun FONOPs?

One thing is certain: I wrote this entire story just so I could use this headline.

Gotta eat da booty like groceries www.youtube.com

I regret nothing.

SEE ALSO: Mystery Lasers Are Messing With US Pilots Near A Critical Base In Djibouti

WATCH NEXT: Chinese Ship Almost Collides With US Navy Vessel

Soldiers from the 1-118th Field Artillery Regiment of the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team fire an M777 Howitzer during a fire mission in Southern Afghanistan, June 10th, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jordan Trent)

Once again, the United States and the Taliban are apparently close to striking a peace deal. Such a peace agreement has been rumored to be in the works longer than the latest "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" sequel. (The difference is Keanu Reeves has fewer f**ks to give than U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.)

Both sides appeared to be close to reaching an agreement in September until the Taliban took credit for an attack that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. That prompted President Donald Trump to angrily cancel a planned summit with the Taliban that had been scheduled to take place at Camp David, Maryland, on Sept. 8.

Now Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has told a Pakistani newspaper that he is "optimistic" that the Taliban could reach an agreement with U.S. negotiators by the end of January.

Read More
Audie Murphy (U.S. Army photo)

Editor's note: a version of this post first appeared in 2018

On January 26, 1945, the most decorated U.S. service member of World War II earned his legacy in a fiery fashion.

Read More
A Purple Heart (DoD photo)

Florida's two senators are pushing the Defense Department to award Purple Hearts to the U.S. service members wounded in the December shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

Read More
Ships from Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 23 transit the Pacific Ocean Jan. 22, 2020. DESRON 23, part of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, is on a scheduled deployment to the Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Erick A. Parsons)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The Navy and Marine Corps need to be a bit more short-sighted when assessing how many ships they need, the acting Navy secretary said this week.

The Navy Department is in the middle of a new force-structure review, which could change the number and types of ships the sea services say they'll need to fight future conflicts. But instead of trying to project what they will need three decades out, which has been the case in past assessments, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the services will take a shorter view.

"I don't know what the threat's going to be 30 years from now, but if we're building a force structure for 30 years from now, I would suggest we're probably not building the right one," he said Friday at a National Defense Industrial Association event.

The Navy completed its last force-structure assessment in 2016. That 30-year plan called for a 355-ship fleet.

Read More
Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew becomes emotional while speaking about officer Katie Thyne during a press conference Friday morning Jan. 24, 2020 in Newport News, Va. Officer Thyne died Thursday night after being dragged during a traffic stop. (Daily Press/Jonathon Gruenke via Tribune News Service)

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The police officer killed during a traffic stop in Newport News on Thursday night was a well-liked young officer who just graduated from the police academy seven months ago, Police Chief Steve Drew said at a somber news conference Friday.

Read More