China’s space-launch base in Africa could facilitate nuclear strikes against U.S.

Special to, January 25, 2023


By Richard Fisher

China is making its first space power projection to Africa, building its first space-launch base in the strategically located nation of Djibouti, in a region close to the strategic Bab Al Mandeb Strait that compliments the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) existing naval-air-army base in Djibouti.

But could this likely Chinese military-controlled space-launch base also be used surreptitiously to launch strategic strikes against the United States?

A Dec. 9 Chinese state television illustration of the Jeilong-3 satellite dispenser bus; could it be modified to carry nuclear warheads or hypersonic glide vehicles? / CCTV

On Jan. 9, Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh revealed on his twitter page that he had signed a preliminary $1 billion dollar deal with China’s Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group (HKATG) to build a space-launch base in Djibouti — the same day the government of Djibouti signed the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

However, this is a mobster’s assurance; For 23 years Guelleh and his family have imposed harsh authoritarian rule on Djibouti. He has become a master at exploiting geopolitics to preserve his power, to include avoiding conflicts between his sponsors.

China does not adhere to this UN treaty and its foreign space facilities, controlled by the PLA’s Strategic Support Force (SSF), impose strict control over and exclude host nation citizens, like its space tracking and control base in Argentina’s Neuquen Province.

This combined with China being Djibouti’s largest export market in 2019, its fourth largest source of foreign investments, and that China has maintained a naval, air and army base in Djibouti since 2017, points to the likelihood that Djibouti will not stop any Chinese military exploitation of its space-launching privileges.

A final agreement is expected in March 2023, in which HKATG will obtain access to a 10 square kilometer area for 35 years in the Northern Obock region of Djibouti, that would likely put the space-launch base close to or on the strategic Bab Al Mandeb Strait with Saudi Arabia that controls sea traffic from the Indian and Mediterranean Oceans.

This estimated $1 billion investment may take up to five years to complete and result in a space-launching base with seven space-launch pads and three rocket testing pads.

The Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group is a “private” non-state-owned company that was established in 2019 to form an integrated satellite manufacturing and space data exploitation company.

A Chinese state television report from the November 2022 Zhuhai Airshow said HKATG, “focuses on R&D in cutting-edge high-end space products, including optical remote sensing satellites, SAR radar satellites, laser communication satellites, IoT [internet of things] satellites, carbon satellites and their payloads. HKATG strives to take the lead in transforming Hong Kong’s precision manufacturing industry, accelerating the development of local satellite industry and empowering Hong Kong’s re-industrialization process.”

Rocket-launching would be a very new activity for HKATG.

Currently it is the PLA’s Strategic Support Force that controls and maintains all of China’s space launch bases, and the SSF would have to be a “partner” to ensure the success of HKATG’s space-launch base in Djibouti.

Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh (center) with a Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group delegation, presided over a Dec. 9, 2023 initialing of a $1 billion deal to build a space launch base in Djibouti by 2028. / President Ismail Omar Guelleh Twitter page

HKATG’s main project to date is the 165-satellite “Golden Bauhinia” constellation that will include optical and radar imaging satellites, some with a .5 meter resolution, and an eventual 30-minute revisit rate.

But it is the Chinese Communist Party’s policies of Civil Military Fusion, ensuring the civilian sector help the PLA, and its dual use space policies, ensuring that “civilian” space assets also benefit the PLA, that ensures that “private” space-launch bases and satellites also serve the goals of the PLA.

So far HKATG has launched eight of its Golden Bauhinia satellites and its main partner in doing so appears to be the China Aerospace Science and Technology Company (CASC), China’s dominant military missile and space-launch vehicle contractor.

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