The United States is becoming increasingly dependent on oil from a region beset by official corruption, tottering governments, violent criminal syndicates and religious and ethnic strife: West Africa….
"We can’t afford to have a ship there 365 days a year," said Rear Adm. D.C. Curtis of the U.S. 6th Fleet, which oversees naval responsibilities in Europe and Africa from its headquarters in Naples, Italy. "The days of getting an aircraft carrier off the coast are gone."
That leaves most security in the hands of local forces clearly not up to the job. U.S. officials said thieves each year steal at least $1 billion worth of oil from Nigeria’s coastal pipelines; perhaps twice that much is siphoned off by official government corruption.
In one recent case, two Nigerian admirals — since fired — arranged for the hijacking of the African Pride, a rust-streaked, Greek-registered coastal tanker laden with 11,000 tons of Nigerian crude worth some $4 million. The ship was seized by the Nigerian navy on suspicion that its cargo had been stolen. But the navy escorted the African Pride to sea, where its cargo was pumped to another tanker, which disappeared.
News from the Horn of Africa is diverse and found along many paths. To start, US troops in the Ogaden area rescued two abused and endangered cheetah cubs late last month (Nov 2005) while the Taipei Times is reporting the Chinese navy is "flexing its soft power" as part of an "assertive foreign policy…connecting Chinese seaports with the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. Its strategy: to build up sea power, measured in ships, bases and alliances. Energizing a populace accustomed to thinking of China as a land power is one crucial element of Beijing’s new maritime diplomacy." The sea-based public diplomacy is integral to Chinese expansion in the Middle East region as Iran seeks to seal a deal with China next month (Jan 2006):
In the spirit of challenges of securing energy sources and "hearts and minds" comes an article in the People’s Daily Online:
The 12 young volunteers from places such as Beijing, Sichuan and Yunnan
were going to Ethiopia in Africa to begin a six-month service work in
methane exploitation, Chinese-language teaching, physical education,
health care and information technology.
This Chinese Peace Corps is now in competition to win the hearts and minds with a Peace Corps perceived to be co-opted by the Defense Department. The long term goal for China is clearly cultural and technological imperialism as they seek to recreate a multi-polar world.
From the recent UNOCAL take-over attempt by CNOOC to competition for African energy resources, the Ethiopian service project is one of the many subtle salvos a patient China will fire.