Djibouti has pushed back against what it called “mercilessly pillorying” over speculation that the strategically located Doraleh Container Terminal (DCT) – seized from former operator DP World by its government last month – could be used to expand China’s footprint in the Horn of Africa while threatening United States interests.
The statement Friday from Mohamed Siad Doaleh, Djibouti’s ambassador to the U.S., followed multiple media accounts tied to DP World and concerns over Beijing’s influence. “Djibouti is a committed friend and ally of the United States,” said Doaleh, noting the presence of more than 4,000 U.S. troops stationed at the Camp Lemonnier military base. The suggestion that Djibouti might terminate the 30-year U.S. lease is incomprehensible, he added, and “equally false” is the idea that Djibouti would give the disputed Doraleh terminal site to China – thereby potentially compromising U.S. military operations.
“Nothing could be farther from our intentions,” Doaleh said, noting a new agreementwith Singapore shipping company Pacific International Lines (PIL) expected to boost cargo volume by about one third.
The Djibouti government’s remarks came as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson completed a visit to the small, insular nation perched at the Bab al-Mandab Strait on the western end of the Gulf of Aden. It also followed remarks earlier in the week by Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of the U.S. military’s Africa Command, during a U.S. House Armed Services Committee hearing.
When asked by Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL), Waldhauser said there were no immediate concerns about Doraleh because it’s currently the subject of litigation: DP World considers the port site takeover an illegal seizure and is pursuing its legal options. Waldhauser said the situation is being monitored for future ramifications – Djibouti may identify a new operator in six months – because hypothetical control by the Chinese could have consequences affecting, for example, U.S. Navy refueling and supply lines.
“This is why our visibility there is very, very important,” Waldhauser said. “The Chinese involvement and engagement on the continent is certainly on an upward arc.”