Ships carrying Chinese troops tasked with setting up the country’s first overseas military base are steaming towards the East African nation of Djibouti.
China calls its new facility a ‘support base’ and says it will have mainly logistical functions, however observers see it as a key part of Beijing’s plans to expand its global reach through military might.
India in particular views the base with suspicion as New Delhi is concerned that China is confronting it with a ‘ring of pearls’ – a series of assets and alliances across the Indian Ocean and into South-East Asia.
A report from the Pentagon recently suggested that China is likely to open a military base in Pakistan, India’s main rival in Asia. However, China dismissed this.
China started building its base in Djibouti just over a year ago.
It is stationed just a few miles from a US camp, and France and Japan also have bases in the nation, which is about the size of Wales.
A report by China’s official Xinhua news agency said the decision to set up the base was “made by the two countries after friendly negotiations”.
The report added: “The base will ensure China’s performance of missions, such as escorting, peace-keeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and west Asia.
“The base will also 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.”
China’s defence ministry said that a ceremony was held at a naval pier in the southern Chinese port of Zhanjiang presided over by navy commander Vice Admiral Shen Jinlong.
Neither Xinhua or defence officials gave details on numbers or units of troops travelling to the new base.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing the facility would enable China to make “new and greater contributions” to peace in Africa and the world and would benefit Djibouti’s economic development.
The People’s Liberation Army Daily said in a front-page commentary that the new base would help China fulfil its obligations in ensuring global peace, working with its huge UN peacekeeping force in Africa and its anti-piracy patrols.
The Global Times, a newspaper which often takes a nationalist tone, said the new facility was indeed a military base.
“We will base troops there,” it said. “It’s not a commercial resupply point. It makes sense there is attention on this from foreign public opinion.”
Additional reporting by Christine Wei.