A naval fleet of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) led by the destroyer Nanning arrived in Nigeria on Sunday, in a rare visit by the Chinese military to Africa’s Atlantic coast, where Beijing has long made efforts to grow its influence.
The Chinese ambassador to Nigeria hailed the five-day visit as a milestone in ties, while the Nigerian navy expressed willingness to work with China to tackle maritime security threats and maintain stability in the Gulf of Guinea, the Chinese embassy said in a statement on Monday.
Oil-rich West Africa is an important global exporter of crude. The region, mostly Angola and Nigeria, is among China’s top oil suppliers. Major Chinese oil explorer CNOOC Ltd also engages in deep-sea production off the coast of Nigeria.
There has also been speculation the Gulf of Guinea could offer a potential base for China’s military as the country has widened its influence in almost every African nation through investment, trade and loans over the last three decades.
In 2016, the cash-strapped island nation of Sao Tome and Principe in the Gulf established relations with Beijing after cutting ties with democratically governed Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory.
China opened its first overseas naval base in Djibouti in the northeast in 2017, fanning concern that Beijing might set up more regional “logistics facilities” as its military develops the capacity to operate thousands of kilometres from home.