China to set up first overseas naval facility in Djibouti next to US airbase
Amid sweeping military reforms announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing is planning to build a naval facility in the outpost of Djibouti, East Africa, to strengthen its counter-piracy and peacekeeping efforts, officials say, RT reports.
The outpost, in the tiny former French colony bordering Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea, is also the United States’ only military base on the continent, used as a launching pad for its counter-terrorism operations and drones program in the region.
China is in talks with Djibouti’s government to build the “military supporting facilities” which officials say will not serve as its “military base.”
The facility will only provide “logistical support” to fuel, rest and re-supply Chinese Navy ships in the strategically vital Horn of Africa.
It will help China’s navy and army to participate in UN peacekeeping operations, carry out escort missions in the waters near Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, and provide humanitarian assistance.
The announcement comes as Beijing prepares to play a greater role in the world by modernizing its military and navy, and making significant contributions to UN peacekeeping all over the globe.
Currently, China is a major provider of peacekeeping troops to Africa, where it has huge economic interests, having invested some $40 billion in the continent over the last 15 years.
Beijing also faces public pressure to protect its citizens overseas, especially after four Chinese were killed by terrorist groups in Syria and Mali last week. It may also need to evacuate its nationals as it did in Libya in 2011 and Yemen in March.
At the same time, Beijing is pushing to build-up a so-called “blue-water navy” able to operate in oceanic waters with a global reach.
Over the past few years, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has commissioned its first aircraft carrier, “Liaoning,” originally laid down in 1988 for the Soviet Navy.
Similar naval programs to build state-of-the-art warships and nuclear submarines are also underway.
A former colony of France, Djibouti already hosts the United States’ only African permanent military base at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport.
Called Camp Lemonnier, it accommodates the Pentagon’s African Command (AFRICOM) and is used for CIA drone operations. It has killed some 3,000 people, mainly civilians, according to the Economist.
Djibouti is a gateway to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, and has been used by international navies – including China’s – as a base for anti-piracy from neighboring Somalia.