China’s fast-modernising military is extending its global reach. The first stop is Djibouti, where Beijing has decided to set up its first overseas military base though officials describe it as a logistics facility.
Chinese state media reported late on July 11 that warships departed from Zhanjiang in southern China to set up a “support base” in the Horn of Africa nation.
As reported by Al Jazeera, China’s agreement with Djibouti ensures its military presence in the country up until 2026, with a contingent of up to 10,000 soldiers.
China began construction of the base in Djibouti last year. The plan is to use the base to resupply navy ships taking part in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions off the coasts of Yemen and Somalia.
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.
State news agency Xinhua did not say when the base would begin operations.
Xinhua said the establishment of the base was a decision made by the two countries after “friendly negotiations, and accords with the common interest of the people from both sides”.
In a separate report, CNN noted that China has expanded its military ties across Africa in recent years.
In 2015 Chinese President Xi Jinping committed 8,000 troops to the UN peacekeeping standby force — one fifth of the 40,000 total troops committed by 50 nations — China also pledged $100m to the African Union standby force and $1bn to establish the UN Peace and Development Trust Fund.
More than 2,500 Chinese combat-ready soldiers and police officers are now deployed in blue-helmet missions across the African continent, with the largest deployments in South Sudan (1,051), Liberia (666), and Mali (402).
“It’s a confluence of these factors – trade, military, and stability in the host country’s government” that brought China to Djibouti, Edward Paice, director of the London-based Africa Research Institute, said.
Meanwhile, for Djibouti, it’s all about money, Paice said. “This is a fantastic get-rich-quick scheme — to rent bits of desert to foreign powers. It’s as simple as that.”