Hong Kong (CNN)Concerns in Washington are growing amid reports that China is poised to gain control of a major commercial port on the Horn of Africa, further consolidating the country's influence in the critically strategic region.
'Weaponizing capital': US worries over China's expanding role in Africa
In late February, the Djibouti government terminated a contract with Dubai-based port operator DP World to run the Doraleh Container Terminal (DCT), on the grounds it was "contrary to the fundamental interests of the nation."
The port is partly owned by China's state-owned China Merchants Port Holdings, which maintains a 23.5% stake in the port's parent company, Port de Djibouti SA. It is also located immediately adjacent to China's only overseas military base, on the west bank of the Gulf of Aden and the southern entrance to the Red Sea, close to the Suez Canal.
The government's sudden seizure of the port, among the largest in Africa, has led to speculation it could fall into Chinese hands, with US lawmakers citing reports that Djibouti was preparing to hand it over to China as a "gift."
The Djibouti government relies heavily on investment capital from China and the two countries maintain close diplomatic ties.
On Tuesday, the future of the port dominated discussions during a hearing of the US House Armed Services Committee, with one senior US general warning that the US military could face "significant" consequences should China take control of the port.
Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the US' top military commander in Africa, said Chinese control of the port could result in restrictions on its use, potentially cutting off access to a key US resupply route and naval refueling stop.