As India, US and Japan are carrying out three-nation five-day Malabar Naval Exercise, China on Tuesday sent ships carrying personnel for setting up its first overseas military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. This is a part of Chinese military’s ongoing efforts to extend its global reach.
Djibouti is about the size of Wales in the United Kingdom. Located on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean, it is also strategically important for India. No wonder Chinese effort to set up a military base on this location has fueled concerns in India that Djibouti may become another of China’s “string of pearls” of military alliances and assets surrounding India, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
Djibouti is also at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal. It is a small barren nation sandwiched between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. It also hosts the US, Japanese and French military bases.
China officially describes Djibouti, its first overseas naval base, as a logistics facility. On Tuesday, China’s People’s Liberation Army Daily said the Djibouti facility was a landmark that would increase China’s ability to ensure global peace, especially because the country has so many UN peacekeepers in Africa and was also involved in anti-piracy patrols. The daily further said China would not seek military expansionism or get into arms races no matter what happened. “These promises will not change because of the construction of the overseas logistics base,” it said.
However, state-run Global Times said, there could be no mistake that this was 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 China’s official People’s Daily. China’s military development was about protecting its own security, it said, adding, “It’s not about seeking to control the world.”
According to Reuters, China had started the construction of the base in Djibouti last year. This will be used to resupply Chinese Navy ships taking part in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions off the coasts of Yemen and Somalia, in particular.
Chinese Navy commander Shen Jinlong “read an order on constructing the base in Djibouti”, but he did not say when the base would begin operations, reported Reuters. According to Chinese news agency Xinhua, the Djibouti base will be “conducive to overseas tasks including military cooperation, joint exercises, evacuating and protecting overseas Chinese and emergency rescue, as well as jointly maintaining security of international strategic seaways.”