A Chinese port operator is tightening its grip on a strategic container terminal in East Africa, resetting operations and infrastructure at a site crucial to Beijing’s push to control seagoing trade lanes between Asia and Europe.
China Merchants Port Holdings is asserting control of operations at Djibouti’s Doraleh Container Terminal, maritime officials say, while state-owned China Civil Engineering Construction Corp. and China State Construction Engineering Corp. have built a multipurpose cargo facility next door to handle cars, livestock, steel and other goods.
Crew members of ships that recently docked at Djibouti said the new port resembles other Chinese-managed ports around the world.
“At the multipurpose port it’s the same cranes, the same silos for grain, fertilizers and other commodities, it’s very Chinese,” said Apolinario Bautista, executive officer of a dry-bulk ship that docked in Djibouti in late January.
The Djiboutian government has repeatedly said it alone controls the Doraleh terminal and has told the U.S. it has no plans to cede control of its maritime assets to Chinese state port operators. But some U.S. officials have expressed concern that it could be a matter of time before that happens…
China also has a military base in Djibouti, its first in a foreign country. China is Djibouti’s top financier—holding about half of the country’s public debt, according to bankers’ calculations based on International Monetary Fund numbers…
Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the top U.S. military officer for Africa, told a congressional hearing last year that the U.S. military could face significant consequences if China took the port in Djibouti.