China: America’s best frenemy.
The American relationship with China certainly is complex.
The Asian powerhouse is assisting the US with negotiations with North Korea. However, at the same time, the American government has formally complained to China about an incident involving the Chinese military targeting American military pilots with lasers in the African nation of Djibouti.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White said at a briefing on Thursday that the United States has requested China investigate incidents in recent weeks in which U.S. aircraft in Djibouti have been affected by unauthorized Chinese laser activity.
White said the Pentagon was confident that Chinese nationals were responsible. She said there had been more than two but fewer than 10 such incidents, which she said had increased in frequency in recent weeks.
“It’s a serious matter,” White said. “And we’re taking it very seriously.”
Back in 2017, China began constructing its first overseas military base in Djbouti, a few miles from Camp Lemonnier and one of the Pentagon’s largest foreign installations and critical it its War on Terror.
“It’s like having a rival football team using an adjacent practice field,” said Gabriel Collins, an expert on the Chinese military and a founder of the analysis portal China SignPost. “They can scope out some of your plays. On the other hand, the scouting opportunity goes both ways.”
Established after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Camp Lemonnier is home to 4,000 personnel. Some are involved in highly secretive missions, including targeted drone killings in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, and the raid last month in Yemen that left a member of the Navy SEALs dead. The base, which is run by the Navy and abuts Djibouti’s international airport, is the only permanent American military installation in Africa.
Beyond surveillance concerns, United States officials, citing the billions of dollars in Chinese loans to Djibouti’s heavily indebted government, wonder about the long-term durability of an alliance that has served Washington well in its global fight against Islamic extremism.
The Chinese are denying that the laser incidents occurred.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in her daily briefing Friday the US had been told their accusations were “totally inconsistent with facts.” “You can remind people in the US they should pay attention to facts and not make groundless accusations,” she said.
On Thursday, Chinese state media had strongly refuted the original claims by US defense officials, accusing them of “cooking up phony laser stories.”
Quoting Chinese military experts, state media tabloid Global Times said Beijing’s Djibouti base was “small and serves as logistical support.”
“The US should treat the base with a fair attitude and stop making up rumors about it,” the expert was quoted as saying.
On the civilian side of things, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other leading American trade officials ended a round of talks in Beijing with seemingly no progress being made on significant issues (e.g., the trade imbalance, the Chinese targeting U.S. technology and intellectual property).
Both sides say the talks will continue with quarterly meetings.
Despite the lack of tangible progress, Amy Celico, who was a China specialist at the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office under President George W. Bush, says that to some extent in this case, no news is good news.
“The fact that the result of the meeting wasn’t slapping unilateral measures in place — as had been threatened in advance of the meeting — I think is a good one,” Celico told NPR.
In conclusion, it appears that at this time in history, China is America’s best frenemy.DONATE
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