Strategically-placed Djibouti also hosts US and French military bases
Chinese troops have been deployed to the country's first overseas military base, in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. Beijing says the base will be used for logistical purposes, such as resupplying ships taking part in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions.
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.
Referring to the facility as a “support base,” the Chinese media outlet said its purpose will be to ensure China's successful performance of missions in the region, including peacekeeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and western Asia. It did not say when operations would begin at the base.
It went on to state that the base will also assist with overseas tasks including military cooperation and joint exercises, as well as jointly maintaining security of international strategic waterways.
The decision to build the base in Djibouti came after “friendly negotiations” between the two nations, according to the PLA Navy, as cited by Xinhua.
In a front-page commentary, the People's Liberation Army Daily said the facility will increase China's ability to ensure global peace, particularly because it has many UN peacekeepers in Africa and is very involved in anti-piracy patrols.
It added that China will under no circumstances be seeking military expansionism or become involve in arms races.
Meanwhile, an editorial in the state-run Global Times seemed to refer to the facility as a proper base, rather than a logistics facility.
“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,” the editorial states.
It went on to state that China's military development is about protecting its own security, not about “seeking to control the world.”
However, the base has sparked concern in India, with New Delhi worrying that this could be the first of many Chinese outposts in the Indian Ocean, Reuters reported. Beijing, which is rapidly modernizing its military, has denied that claim.
The deployment comes after a Pentagon report in May claimed that China was eyeing military presence overseas and modernization of its military to “deter or defeat adversary power projection and counter third-party intervention – including by the United States – during a crisis or conflict.”
Beijing responded by saying it is “firmly opposed” to the report, which is said included “irresponsible remarks” and “disregarded facts.”
The small country of Djibouti, situated between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, is home to some 887,000 people and is favored for its strategic location at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, on the route to the Suez Canal. The nation is also home to US, French and Japanese military compounds.
Japanese government sources said last year that Tokyo will be expanding its base in Djibouti, to counter what it sees as growing Chinese influence in the region.
“China is putting money into new infrastructure and raising its presence in Djibouti, and it is necessary for Japan gain more influence,” one source told Reuters at the time.