China’s Military Goes Global, Establishes First Base in Africa

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Members of a Chinese military honor guard march during a welcome ceremony for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace at the Ministry of Defense in Beijing, China, March 22, 2007. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen. (Released)

China is set to introduce “a few thousand” troops and other military personnel at its first permanent military installation abroad. The base will be stationed on the strategic Horn of Africa.

The location is also the site America’s own sprawling African military base camp in Djibouti, a 4,500 member base responsible for counter-terrorism operations in the region. Japan, a US ally which often finds itself at odds with China, also has an army installation in Djibouti, threatening to export their regional debate over the South China Sea outside the region

China’s move adds to worries that China is embarking on a new strategy to build itself into an international military force, a departure from its prior non-interventionist global policy. China recently committed to increasing its contribution to worldwide peacekeeping operations to 8,000 troops, a four-fold increase, along with an increase in air and sea capabilities.

China has revealed little in regards to its intentions in Djibouti, mostly referring to the operation in sanguine terms by describing the new base as merely a “logistical facility” primarily for its maritime and anti-piracy efforts.

While they were similarly coy about staffing levels, Djibouti Minister of Foreign Affairs Mahmoud Ali Youssouf told the Financial Times that China will pay $20 million per year on a ten year contract to lease a facility that would house a “few thousand” workers, military and other staffers combined. The US, by comparison, currently pays $63 million per year to lease their own site.

However, China has also agreed to lend $1 billion at non-concessional rates for other projects boosting Djibouti’s $1.5 billion economy. Those infrastructure programs include a water pipeline and a new railway link with neighboring landlocked Ethiopia.

Djibouti encompasses a vital position sitting at the southern access of the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean. Youssouf deflected criticism about the base arguing they had as much right as anyone else.

“The Americans have enough technology, enough fighter aircraft, enough drones [here] to control each and every piece of this land and even beyond,” Youssouf to the Financial Times. “Why should the Chinese not have the right to also use those materials . . . to preserve and protect their interests in the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb?”

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