China’s political power is growing rapidly. The country plans to build its first foreign military base. Yesterday, two Navy warships set sail from the port of Zhangjian in preparation.
Beijing has set its sights on Djibouti, a tiny country in the Horn of Africa. Djibouti boasts a meager population of one million yet it’s nestled on the edge of one of the most important waterways in the world. France, Japan, and the U.S. have already established military bases within the country. Significant resources are expended in maintaining them.
“The US military has some 4,000 troops at Camp Lemonnier, a 100-acre base for which it signed a 10-year, $630 million lease in 2014…Elsewhere in Djibouti, the US military operates the Chabelley Airfield, from which the Pentagon stages drone airstrikes, likely into Somalia and across the Bab el-Mandeb Strait into Yemen,” CNN reports.
Djibouti officials sell land to foreign powers in exchange for cash and other valuable aid. China’s desire to firmly establish itself in Africa comes as no surprise. The Chinese have been pumping money into the continent for the past decade or more. Some even claim that Chinese operations will bring so much prosperity to Africans that the continent will soon be able to overcome its financial woes.
“It (China) has cited its desire to play a greater role in peacekeeping, and it has combat troops in both South Sudan and Mali. It’s logical that it needs an actual base somewhere in Africa, which is really no different from the Americans saying that they need Camp Lemonnier as a headquarters for operations in Africa, whether in peacekeeping or counter-terror or whatever,” Edward Paice, director of the London-based Africa Research Institute, said.
Bejing already has deep military ties to Djibouti. Two years ago Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to send 8,000 soldiers to the United Nations peacekeeping standby force. China also promised $1 billion to be used in the establishment of a UN Peace and Development Fund and $100 million to the African Union standby force.
“China has been deploying naval ships to waters off Somalia in the Gulf of Aden to conduct escorting missions since 2008,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang. “The completion and operation of the base will help China better fulfill its international obligations in conducting escorting missions and humanitarian assistance … It will also help promote economic and social development in Djibouti.”
Establishing a foreign military base is a sign of power. Countries that do so cement their status as world leaders. China has been in negotiations with Djibouti for years. Their presence is already felt. Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy troops marched in the country’s independence day parade last June.
Djibouti’s value stems from its location. Its shores offer critical access to the Bab el-Mandeb straight, one of the most important waterways in the world. Millions of oil barrels are transported through the straight every single day.
“This particular piece of geography is very, very important to our strategic interests,” U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of the Pentagon’s Africa Command, said in a joint appearance with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis.
China’s increasing prominence might be a bigger threat to America’s stability than Russia. Many experts claim that China will soon be the premier superpower in the world, supplanting America. Beijing has already expressed dissatisfaction with the Trump administration. If hostilities continue, conflict may break out.
“The base will ensure China’s performance of missions, such as escorting, peace-keeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and west Asia,” it said.“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,” said State news agency Xinhua.
It will be interesting to see how the next few years play out for Beijing.