What a Chinese Naval Base on the Red Sea Means for the Middle East

Aug. 25 2017

This summer, the Chinese navy set up a naval base in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa—Beijing’s first-ever overseas naval base. Its location atop the Mandeb Strait, between Yemen and Africa, allows China to guard a waterway that is crucial for both its oil imports and its exports to Europe. Gideon Elazar comments:

The establishment of the base follows several years of increasing Chinese involvement in Africa and the Middle East. . . . The Chinese vision of a new maritime Silk Road is closely related to the official celebration of Zheng He, the early 15th-century [Muslim] admiral who brought China fame and power through his voyages in Southeast Asia and across the Indian Ocean to Africa. . . . Zheng He’s voyages are frequently noted as a symbol of a world order based on trade rather than violence and controlled by the benevolent hegemony of the Chinese imperial court.

In Chinese publications of recent years, Zheng He’s fleets are glorified as a tool of regional economic growth, scientific research, peaceful cultural exchange, and universal friendship. It is worth noting that while Zheng He’s voyages collected treasures (such as the famous giraffe brought back for the Imperial Court from Africa), its main objective was to display the Ming dynasty’s power and dominance and to collect tribute from local rulers. Indeed, a number of rulers who refused to recognize the hegemony of the Chinese emperor were punished and taken back to China as prisoners.

Zheng is particularly poignant as he is often perceived as both a testament to Chinese greatness and a symbol of China’s missed opportunities. The dismantling of his ships and shipyards by the Ming emperors is widely perceived as one of the causes of the gradual decline of Chinese power and the eventual rise of the West. The reference to Zheng He and the Silk Road can therefore be seen as implying that the mistake made 500 years ago is now being corrected, as the Middle Kingdom returns to its former centrality.

Thus, it would seem to be more than a coincidence that the recent embarkation of ships to Djibouti occurred on the same date that Admiral Zheng He first set sail on his famous voyages over 600 years ago. While the supremacy of Zheng He’s fleet may still be far off, the new base on the coast of Africa seems to mark a declaration of larger intentions.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Africa, China, History & Ideas, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs

What Israel Can Offer Africa

Last week, the Israeli analyst Yechiel Leiter addressed a group of scholars and diplomats gathered in Addis Ababa to discuss security issues facing the Horn of Africa. Herewith, some excerpts from his speech:

Since the advent of Zionism and the birth of modern Israel, there has been a strong ideological connection between Israel and the African continent. . . . For decades, [however], the notion that the absence of peace in the Middle East was due the absence of Palestinian statehood prevented a full and strategic partnership with African countries. . . . The visits to Africa by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—in 2016 to East Africa and in 2017 to West Africa—reenergized the natural partnership that was initiated by Israel’s Foreign Minister Golda Meir in the 1960s.

There is much we share, many places where our interests converge. And I don’t mean another military base in Djibouti. . . . One such area involves the safety of waterways in and around the Red Sea. Curtailing contraband, drugs, arms smuggling, and other forms of serious corruption are all vital for us. . . . But the one critical area of cooperation I’d like to put the spotlight on is in the realm of food security, or rather food insecurity.

Imagine Ethiopia’s cows producing 30 or 40 liters of milk a day instead of the two or three that they produce today. Imagine an exponential rise in (organic) meat exports to Middle Eastern and even European countries, the result of increased processing, storage, and transportation possibilities. Cows today can have a microscopic chip behind their ears that sends messages to the farmer’s computer or mobile phone that tracks what the cow ate, what its temperature is, and what care it might need. Imagine a dramatic expansion of the wheat yield that can make Ethiopia a net exporter of wheat—to Egypt, perhaps in the context of negotiations over the waters of the Nile.

Israel has proven technology in all of these agricultural areas and we’re here; we’re neighbors. We are linked to Africa, particularly the Horn of Africa, in so many ways.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Africa, Ethiopia, Israel diplomacy, Israeli agriculture, Israeli technology