US intelligence agencies found evidence this year of construction work on what they believed was a secret Chinese military facility in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which was stopped after Washington’s intervention, according to a report on Friday.
The Wall Street Journal reported that satellite imagery of the port of Khalifa had revealed suspicious construction work inside a container terminal built and operated by Cosco Shipping Holdings Ltd (中遠海運控股).
The evidence included huge excavations apparently for a multistory building and that the site was covered in an apparent attempt to evade scrutiny.
The administration of US President Joe Biden held urgent talks with the Emirati authorities, who appeared to be unaware of the military activities, according to the report.
It said the discussions included two direct conversations between Biden and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in May and August.
In late September, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and White House Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk went to the UAE and presented the details of the US intelligence on the site to the Emirati authorities, with McGurk returning this week to meet the crown prince.
After US officials recently inspected the Khalifa site, construction work was suspended, the report said.
The report comes four years after the Chinese navy established a facility in Djibouti, its first overseas base, which was placed within a Chinese-run commercial port, at Doraleh.
The UAE embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but told the Journal that “the UAE has never had an agreement plan, talks or intention to host a Chinese military base or outpost of any kind.”
“The Emiratis have said this isn’t happening,” a senior US official said. “I refer you to the Emiratis about this specific project. But I can tell you that we are committed to our enduring partnership between the United States and the UAE.”
The UAE report is the latest example of an increasingly pointed global rivalry between the US and China.
On the same day, the US Department of State warned Beijing that the US would intervene to defend Philippine ships in the event of an armed Chinese attack, following an incident in which Chinese naval vessels used water cannons against Philippine resupply boats in the South China Sea.
Department spokesman Ned Price called the Chinese action “dangerous, provocative and unjustified.”
Beijing “should not interfere with lawful Philippine activities in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone,” Price said in a statement.
“The United States stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order and reaffirms that an armed attack on Philippine public vessels in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments.”
US National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell said: “The chief characteristic of US-China relations right now is competition, and we are competing across the board everywhere.”
“We believe it’s possible to compete responsibly in a healthy way, but at the same time, the president ... recognizes that it will be important to try to establish some guardrails ... that will keep the relationship from veering into dangerous arenas of confrontation,” Campbell said at the US Institute for Peace on Friday.
Campbell said that at their virtual summit at the beginning of the week, Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) agreed on tentative steps toward establishing talks between officials of both countries aimed at reducing the risk of conflict by accident or miscalculation, especially when it came to nuclear weapons.
“What we would like to do ... is to enlist China in discussions about what we would do if we faced some sort of acts that were inadvertent,” he said.
“We are in the very earliest stages of that kind of discussion, and I think it would be fair to say that President Xi indicated that they would at least engage in that discussion, that we would identify potentially who the right people would be for that kind of discussion, and that would involve people on the military side perhaps, and other parts of our governments as well,” he added.
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