China Sends Troops to Africa’s Djibouti to Open Its First Military Base Overseas

Chinese Navy officers wave from the deck of Chinese Navy frigate 'Ffg Xiangtan' as they depart the Myanmar International Terminals at the Thilawa Port of Yangon, Myanmar 04 October 2016. Photo: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • China has sent troops to its first military base overseas – in Djibouti in Eastern Africa.
  • Base in Djibouti is to be used by China for a variety of missions – from humanitarian efforts to sea patrols, according to the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
  • US, France, Italy, and Japan all have military bases in Djibouti.
  • Base in Djibouti does not signify military expansionism by China but is nonetheless clearly meant for military purposes, according to commentaries in state-run media.
  • Its establishment comes against the backdrop of China’s growing trade and infrastructure investments in Africa.

China has dispatched ships carrying troops to what is described as its first overseas military base located in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea country of Djibouti in Eastern Africa.

China began construction of a logistics base in Djibouti last year to resupply its naval vessels participating in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions off the coasts of Somalia and Yemen, including against Somali pirates.

Even though Beijing refers to it as a “logistics facility”, the base in Djibouti can technically be described as China’s first naval base overseas.

The US, France, Italy, and Japan all have already military installations in Djibouti, which is situated on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, gateway to one of the world’s busiest trade route, the Suez Canal. Among other things, Djibouti provides sea access to its landlocked neighbour Ethiopia.

The US military base in Djibouti called Camp Lemonnier houses at least 4,000 military personnel.

In another development, China recently slammed the notion it was responsible for reigning in North Korea, what it styled as the “China responsibility theory”.

‘Contributions’ to Africa’s Peace

Ships carrying Chinese military personnel departed from Zhanjiang in southern China’s Guangdong Province on Tuesday to set up a support base in Djibouti, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Shen Jinlong, commander of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, read an order on constructing the base in Djibouti, and conferred military flag on the fleets.

According to the Chinese Navy, the establishment of the PLA Djibouti base “was a decision made by the two countries after friendly negotiations, and accords with the common interest of the people from both sides”.

The base is said to ensure China’s performance of missions, such as escorting, peace-keeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and West Asia, and for military cooperation, joint exercises, evacuating, emergency rescue efforts as well as patrolling international waterways.

Djibouti’s position on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean has fuelled worry in India that it would become another of China’s “string of pearls” of military alliances and assets ringing India, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, Reuters noted.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing the base would enable China to make “new and greater contributions” to peace in Africa and the world and would benefit Djibouti’s economic development.

No Military Expansionism

The People’s Liberation Army Daily said in a front-page commentary the facility in Djibouti was a landmark that would increase China’s ability to ensure global peace, especially because it had so many UN peacekeepers in Africa and was so involved in anti-piracy patrols.

China would not seek military expansionism or get into arms races no matter what happened, the newspaper said.

“These promises will not change because of the construction of the overseas logistics base,” it said.

The state-run Global Times said in an editorial there could be no mistake that this was in fact a military base.

“Certainly, this is the People’s Liberation Army’s first overseas base and we will base troops there. It’s not a commercial resupply point. It makes sense there is attention on this from foreign public opinion,” said the paper, which is published by the official People’s Daily.

“It’s not about seeking to control the world,” but about China’s own security, it argued.

There has been persistent speculation that China might build other such bases, in Pakistan for example, but the government has dismissed that.

Interest in Africa

In 2015, at a major summit with African nations, China pledged to invest USD 60 billion in Africa’s development, the BBC reminds.

It has poured funds in infrastructure projects in Africa such as railways linking up African countries, including one that connects Djibouti with the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, as well as railways in Angola, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia.

Africa in turn supplies China with natural resources, minerals and energy.

China also embarked on its first foreign peacekeeping mission in South Sudan in 2015.

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