China Opens First Overseas Base in Djibouti

China has officially opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti, though Beijing insists that the base is purely a support center for Chinese peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts in the region

Chinese frigate (Photo: AP)

China formally opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti, on August 1, 2017. Chinese state radio said more than 300 people attended the flag raising ceremony, including deputy Chinese naval commander Tian Zhong and Djibouti's defense minister.

A Chinese flotilla that included two ships carrying Chinese military personnel departed Zhanjiang in southern China's Guangdong Province on July 11, 2017, to set up a support base in Djibouti.

Shen Jinlong, the commander of the (PLA) Navy, read an order on constructing the base in Djibouti and conferred military flag on the flotilla.

China started building the base in Djibouti in February 2016, the country's first naval base abroad, when its naval vessels were taking part in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions off the coasts of Yemen and Somalia. China's agreement with Djibouti ensures its military presence in the country up until 2026, with a contingent of up to 10,000 soldiers, and China will pay $20 million per year in rent.

Djibouti might have been chosen because of its strategic location near the Bab al-Mandeb Strait and its relative stability. Djibouti is located in the narrowest part of the Bab al-Mandeb Strait which connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It is an essential maritime chokepoint of great economic and strategic importance. All the European ships which enter the Red Sea from the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal and head toward East and South Asia, as well as Australia, pass through the 26-kilometer-wide bottle neck. Nearly one-third of the world’s shipping, including most of China’s $1 billion in daily exports and half of its oil imports, passes by Djibouti’s coast through the Bab-el-Mandeb on the way to the Suez Canal. 

Djibouti has been seen as a strategic location and major militaries of the world seek a presence there (US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan and Saudi Arabia).The Chinese base will be stationed just a few kilometers from Camp Lemonnier, the only permanent US base in Africa since 2002.

Chinese ships have deployed to the Gulf of Aden since 2008 to help protect commercial shipping against piracy and other dangers. Though its forces have not taken part of any of the other multinational counter-piracy task forces in the region, China has conducted this mission unilaterally under the broad mandate of a number of UN Security Council resolutions.

In 2011, China has sent one of its warships together with military transport aircraft to help in the evacuation of about 35,000 Chinese citizens from Libya. In 2015, China detached three navy ships from the anti-piracy patrols to rescue Chinese citizens and other foreign nationals from fighting in Yemen

China's Goals of in Djibouti

China sought to send a message that it was not about projecting force or Chinese influence. Chinese state-owned media outlet, Xinhua, highlighted that the base "is meant for supply missions, is not a military outpost built to boost the country's military presence and play deterrent roles in the region."   

The base will ensure China's performance of missions, such as escorting, peacekeeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and west Asia. The base will also be conducive to overseas tasks including military cooperation, joint exercises, evacuating and protecting overseas Chinese and emergency rescue, as well as jointly maintaining the security of international strategic seaways.

"The Djibouti base has nothing to do with an arms race or military expansion, and China has no intention of turning the logistics center into a military foothold," the media outlet pointed out.

Summary

China increasingly intends to show that it is a global power and the new base in Djibouti should be viewed in this context. There are signs indicating that the Djibouti base won't be Beijing's only military installation abroad. China is increasingly focusing on the use of its Armed Forces for what they call the 'protection of foreign interests' which lie far beyond the borders of the PRC. This includes Africa and the Middle East. New Chinese support bases and logistic hubs may soon appear in other places to ensure the security of the China-led New Silk Road project.

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