Published: Thu, July 13, 2017
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

China to open first overseas military base in Djibouti

China to open first overseas military base in Djibouti

Ships carrying personnel from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) were dispatched to set up the base in Djibouti on Tuesday, state news agency Xinhua reported, declining to mention the number of troops that were deployed.

China says it will use its Djibouti base for missions such as peacekeeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and west Asia as well as joint military exercises and maintaining the security of worldwide strategic waterways. "This base can support Chinese Navy to go farther, so it means a lot", said the paper.

But the "essential objective of China's development of its military might is to protect "China's safety", and is not about seeking to control the world", it said.

At a regular press briefing Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang described the base as part of ongoing efforts to help bring peace and security to the region.

The base is generally meant to "assist China's contribution to peace and stability both in Africa and worldwide", according to the Xinhua News Agency. Djibouti's position on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean has fueled worries 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. He also stressed that Beijing was committed to peaceful development, adding that China's defense policy remained to be defensive in nature. To that end, over the past two years, China has cut down its defence spending with the military budget in 2017 standing at 7 percent, the lowest hike in more than 10 years.

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Touted by military experts as one of the most strategically important U.S. military bases overseas, Camp Lemonnier has been dramatically expanded since it was built in 2001.

But while China may downplay the importance of moving the amphibious transport dock and mobile landing platform vessels to Djibouti, the significance of establishing its first permanent overseas military facilities in such a strategic location is undeniable. In addition, the USA operates an airfield in Djibouti from which the Pentagon launches drone strikes in the region.

China's military base in Djibouti will be established just a few miles from Camp Lemonnier, a decision that Washington says would raise "security concerns". "It makes sense there is attention on this from foreign public opinion".

Paice points out that China made a substantial investment in Djibouti - about $500 million, according to reports - to build the Djibouti portion of a rail line to the capital of neighboring Ethiopia.

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