The top US military commander in Africa has warned of national security risks, if China takes over a strategic port in Africa.
Why is the US worried about an African port?
The Doraleh Container Terminal is located in Djibouti, a country about the size of Massachusetts.
The former French colony is home to America’s biggest military base in the continent, which is located just miles from China’s first and only overseas military base.
Here’s why the port matters:
An important gateway
The Doraleh terminal, which used to be run by Dubai-based maritime company DP World, serves as a key access point for the American military base in Djibouti.
Last month, the Djibouti government ended its contract with DP World, citing irregularities in the agreement.
The port operator has called the move an illegal seizure.
Washington fears the terminal will soon be in Beijing’s hands.
At Tuesday’s hearing, US lawmakers said they were concerned about reports that the African nation intended to award the contract to Chinese companies.
Marine Corps General Thomas Waldhauser, the top US general in Africa, said resupplying to US troops in Africa and the refuel of navy ships would be affected if China took over the port and limited America’s access.
Djibouti has a population of less than a million.
But its geopolitical significance cannot be overstated.
The nation borders the Mandeb Strait, a vital choke point in the shipping route that links the Persian Gulf to Europe.
It is also one of the few relatively peaceful places near the Middle East.
For these reasons, it's seen as a good place for global powers to station their troops.
The US, Japan and France all have military bases in the country, and China opened its first overseas naval base there in August.
These foreign bases provide a major source of income and employment for the resource-poor country.
As part of a wider drive to expand its influence in Africa, China has in recent years upped its economic, diplomatic and military ties with Djibouti.
Apart from sending troops there, Beijing has granted the African country massive loans and helped to develop its infrastructure.
Chinese state-owned enterprises have financed the nation with billions of dollars, and built airports, natural gas pipelines and a 460-mile railway linking Djibouti and Ethiopia.
During a congressional hearing on Tuesday, General Waldhauser said Washington also needed to increase its visibility in Djibouti, given China’s growing presence.