China is known for generally keeping to itself, but these days it’s showing more and more interest in Djibouti — a small country of fewer than 1 million people located on the Horn of Africa.
On Tuesday, following an official ceremony in the port of Zhanjiang, the commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) sent troops to begin the construction of a permanent overseas base in Djibouti — China’s first-ever overseas military base.
The Chinese government announced plans for the base in 2015, and since then have repeatedly stressed its peaceful intentions. Rather than refer to it as a “military base,” Chinese state media has dubbed it a “support base” that “will ensure China’s performance of missions, such as escorting, peace-keeping, and humanitarian aid in Africa and west Asia,” according to China’s official Xinhua news agency.
The base’s development comes as no surprise since, in recent years, China has shown a growing interest in both expanding its military and increasing international cooperation. This past year, the government spent trillions funding the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which aimed to better connect China with the rest of the world, both economically and politically.
Establishing its presence overseas is an important milestone for the PLA, which has taken serious steps in the last few years to modernize its forces. But why did China choose the often overlooked country of Djibouti as the location for its first overseas base?
According to the Huffington Post, Djibouti is relatively stable compared to surrounding countries like war-torn Yemen, and as China’s Foreign Ministry stated, its strategic location would also allow China to protect the millions of its citizens living in the Middle East and Africa.
The South China Morning Post notes that Chinese investments in Djibouti have skyrocketed in the past decade, making it an attractive location for business endeavors and visitors from China. 59-year-old Zhou Yi moved from China to Djibouti to start a career running a Chinese restaurant. She says it’s much safer there than in other countries she has visited in Africa, and that she sees Chinese influence growing fast.
“We have a [Chinese] embassy here, as well as medical teams, and a naval base. It looks like more Chinese companies are coming too,” Zhou said.
Meanwhile, China is helping to facilitate this development, constructing a $4 billion railway between Djibouti and its manufacturing powerhouse neighbor, Ethiopia, which launched earlier this year.
However, some of Beijing’s biggest rivals didn’t completely buy its story of peaceful military expansion in the Gulf of Aden, instead pointing towards more nefarious motives.
As political analyst Lai Yueqian said in an interview with Taiwan Today: “[The base] can be used to pin down the United States and any U.S.-led organizations, and if [the U.S.] wants to intervene against China’s interests, they will have to think carefully, because China will use their military to protect their citizens and their property.”
But, regardless of their intentions, China continues to show that it’s serious about becoming more and more of a world player.
By Caroline Roy
[Images via Xinhua]
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