China has officially opened its first overseas naval base in Djibouti, state media said on Tuesday, a major step for the country’s expansion of its military presence abroad. Chinese military personnel, officials and guests attended a flag-raising ceremony and military parade to mark the occasion, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The event was timed to coincide with the celebration of the 90th anniversary of the establishment of China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army, on August 1. Officers and troops paraded for an audience that included Djibouti’s defence minister, Xinhua said.
The logistics base is the first of its kind for Beijing, which will use it to support “naval escorts in Africa and southwest Asia, (UN) peacekeeping and for humanitarian support,” according to a previous China defence ministry statement.
China sent its first deployment of troops to the facility on July 11, marking the occasion with a ceremony in the southern province of Guangdong. China has described the base as “defensive in nature”, saying it will provide support for naval escorts, UN peacekeeping, anti-piracy and evacuating Chinese nationals from the region in case of emergency.
The Chinese navy has long assisted anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden, as well as UN peacekeeping efforts throughout Africa. 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.
Beijing has made extensive infrastructure investments throughout the African continent as it seeks to gain access to natural resources and 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.
Home to only around 800,000 people, Djibouti also hosts troops from France and Japan.