China ships troops to its 1st over­seas base in Africa

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

China has de­ployed troops to its first over­seas naval base in Dji­bouti, a ma­jor step for­ward for the coun­try’s ex­pan­sion of its mil­i­tary pres­ence abroad. Chi­nese sailors sailed out of a naval base in Zhan­jiang in the south­ern province of Guang­dong on Tues­day and to­wards the Horn of Africa na­tion, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment posted on the de­fense min­istry’s web­site. The lo­gis­tics base is the first of its kind for China, which will use it to sup­port “naval es­corts in Africa and south­west Asia, (UN) peace­keep­ing and for hu­man­i­tar­ian sup­port,” the state­ment said.

It will also al­low China to evac­u­ate its na­tion­als in a cri­sis, sup­port anti-piracy ac­tiv­i­ties off So­ma­lia and work with other na­tions to “jointly de­fend the se­cu­rity of strate­gic pas­sages.” The Chi­nese navy has long as­sisted in anti-piracy mis­sions in the Gulf of Aden, as well as UN peace­keep­ing ef­forts through­out Africa, but the base will be the coun­try’s first naval base abroad. China started build­ing the base in Feb­ru­ary 2016 in the en­tre­pot on the Horn of Africa, where it will be sta­tioned just a few miles from Camp Le­mon­nier, the United States’ only per­ma­nent base in Africa.

Home to only around 800,000 peo­ple, Dji­bouti also hosts troops from France and Ja­pan. For­eign min­istry spokesman Geng Shuang said yes­ter­day that the base is “pri­mar­ily used for the bet­ter ful­fill­ment of in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions.” “China is com­mit­ted to peace­ful de­vel­op­ment. China’s de­fence pol­icy is de­fen­sive in na­ture. This has not changed.” In a June re­port, the US Depart­ment of De­fense said the strate­gi­cally-sit­u­ated camp, “along with reg­u­lar naval ves­sel vis­its to for­eign ports, both re­flects and am­pli­fies China’s grow­ing in­flu­ence, ex­tend­ing the reach of its armed forces”.

In re­sponse, the Chi­nese de­fense min­istry re­jected the as­sess­ment, say­ing “China is not do­ing any mil­i­tary ex­pan­sion and does not seek a sphere of in­flu­ence.” Bei­jing has made ex­ten­sive in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ments through­out the African con­ti­nent as it seeks to gain ac­cess to nat­u­ral re­sources and open new mar­kets. Chi­nese banks have been ma­jor fun­ders of at least 14 such projects in Dji­bouti, val­ued at 14.4 bil­lion dol­lars in to­tal, in­clud­ing a rail­way line that will halve tran­sit times from Dji­bouti to Ethiopia’s Ad­dis Ababa.

As part of its in­vest­ment strat­egy, it has also pur­sued civil­ian port projects in coun­tries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka that can ac­com­mo­date Chi­nese naval ves­sels, projects some an­a­lysts be­lieve is in­tended to strengthen China’s strate­gic pres­ence in the re­gion. Bei­jing has re­jected those con­cerns. In a Wed­nes­day ed­i­to­rial wel­com­ing the PLA’s an­nounce­ment, China’s state-con­trolled tabloid the Global Times made no bones about the base’s pur­pose. “It is cer­tainly the PLA’s first for­eign naval base,” it said. “It is not a sup­ply point for com­mer­cial use.”—AFP

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