China has dispatched troops to its first overseas military base, projecting power beyond its shores, according to Chinese media reports.
China began constructing its military base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa last year, next door to an important American military base used by U.S. Africa Command, as well as Central Command, Special Operations Command, and European Command. China is now sending military personnel to open the base. It is unclear at this time when the new base will be operational.
“We’ve never had a base of, let’s just say a peer competitor, as close as this one happens to be,” Marine Corps General Thomas Waldhauser, commander of AFRICOM, told Colin Clark at Breaking Defense in March. “There are some very significant operational security concerns” with regard to China’s base development.
The Chinese foreign ministry said Wednesday that the base in Djibouti will “make new and greater contributions” to peace and stability.
“The base will ensure China’s performance of missions, such as escorting, peace-keeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and west Asia,” China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported, Reuters introduced.
“The base will also be conducive,” Xinhua added, “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.”
Chinese officials have avoided labeling the Djibouti base a “military base,” instead calling it an “overseas support facility.” The Chinese Ministry of National Defense explained in December that the new base is “for the purpose of better undertaking its international responsibilities and obligations and better protecting its lawful interests, instead of seeking military expansion.”
China is determined to allay international concerns that its rise may pose a threat and often downplays its military actions abroad. For instance, China denies that the construction of military outposts in the contested South China Sea constitutes militarization. China has also called the Djibouti base a “depot” rather than a “military base.”
The Pentagon reports that China’s activities in Africa are an effort to expand its reach and project power.
“This initiative, along with regular naval vessel visits to foreign ports, both reflects and amplifies China’s growing influence, extending the reach of its armed forces,” the Pentagon wrote in its annual China Military Power report.
Defense intelligence officials anticipate additional Chinese bases in the future.
“China most likely will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests and in which there is a precedent for hosting foreign militaries,” the report explained.
Beijing called the Department of Defense report “irresponsible.”