This week, Chinese troops carried out their first-ever live-fire drill on African soil at China’s first and only overseas military base in the country of Djibouti — a base that Beijing prefers to refer to as a “logistics support base.”
State media outlets have released footage of dozens of PLA troops firing various weapons at targets on a desert training range while dressed in blue camo, as temperatures soared over 40 degrees Celsius. The drill was reportedly ordered to test troops’ fitness and effectiveness in their new, arid environment.
Chinese troops arrived at the newly-founded base on the Gulf of Aden less than two months ago. This is the first time that they have ventured outside of camp for training, base commander Liang Yang said.
“It is also an important part of the ‘month with guns’ activity held by the base,” Liang continued. “The live ammunition drill will help explore a new training model for our overseas garrison.”
Beijing has asserted that its first overseas base has been established to project China’s humanitarian power, rather than its military might. The base has been tasked with helping to supply and coordinate peacekeeping and charitable missions in Africa.
However, China also argues that the base’s peaceful mission doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be able to protect itself. The South China Morning Post cites one Beijing-based military commentator, Zhou Chenming, as saying that these high-profile drills are meant as a message to local militants.
“Since the political situation in Djibouti is very unstable, the troops need to let local armed groups know of their combat strength. They need to tell them that the Chinese forces are there not only to set up the logistics base but must also be able to deal with all kinds of security challenges,” Zhou said.
The tiny but strategically significant country of Djibouti was already home to US, Japanese and French naval bases before Chinese troops arrived. Recently, China has been making particularly generous investments in the country’s infrastructure, including building a $4 billion railway linking it with its landlocked manufacturing powerhouse neighbor, Ethiopia, which launched earlier this year to much fanfare.
Follow Shanghaiist on WeChat