China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, today (August 1) — the same day China marked the PLA’s 90th birthday. In a flag raising ceremony today (Aug.1), Chinese officials unveiled the base that Beijing insists is purely a support center for Chinese peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts in the region. Beijing has said base will be used to support naval missions along the coasts of Somalia and Yemen. Djibouti is located near the Suez Canal, through which as much as 10% of the world’s sea-borne oil trade passes through every year. Djibouti already houses several foreign security forces, including the United States military at Camp Lemonnier, Britain, Japan, and France. It’s also part of China’s One Belt One Road” project, a massive network of transport links that roughly follows the ancient Silk Road.
China’s first overseas peacekeeping mission was in South Sudan, where 700 Chinese troops remain today and China has been part of other UN missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Liberia, and Sudan.
Earlier this week, the Chinese ambassador to the African Union, Kuang Weilin, offered to send soldiers to a disputed border area between Eritrea and Djibouti that had been maintained by Qatari forces. Qatari peacekeepers pulled out of the area last month.
Satellite images obtained by Stratfor, the US-based geopolitical intelligence platform, in April and July reveal a heavily fortified base with three layers of defense, an underground space of 23,000 square meters, and at least eight hangars for aircraft. Curiously, according to Stratfor, no dock had been constructed yet, despite the base’s main mission to support Chinese naval operations.
“It is clear that Beijing is laying down the infrastructure to provide long-term support to naval vessels and some aircraft on the Horn of Africa, near one of the world’s chokepoints for trade,” Stratfor wrote.
Horn Of Africa Base Helps China Meet International Obligations – Foreign Ministry
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang at a daily press briefing on Wednesday said the establishment of a Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) support base in Djibouti is a decision made by the two countries after friendly negotiations and will be conducive to China’s performance of international obligations. Ships carrying Chinese military personnel departed from Zhanjiang in southern China’s Guangdong Province on Tuesday, heading for the support base in Djibouti. Shen Jinlong, commander of the PLA Navy, read an order on constructing the base in Djibouti, and bestowed the military flag on the fleet.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said that in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions, China has deployed vessels to the Gulf of Aden and the waters off the Somali coast on escort missions since 2008. During the process of escorting, Chinese officers and men encountered difficulties in replenishing food and fuel, and Djibouti offered logistical support in multiple instances.
Geng said the support base will better serve Chinese troops when they escort ships in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off the Somali coast, perform humanitarian rescue, and carry out other international obligations.
Moreover, the base will be conducive to driving Djibouti’s economic and social development, and assist China’s contribution to peace and stability both in Africa and worldwide.