From Regional To Global: China Opens Its First Military Base Abroad

On the 1st of August, a flag raising ceremony was held in Djibouti to celebrate the formal opening of China’s first overseas military base. The Chinese government started to build the base last year and its opening coincides with the 90th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army, which is the official name of China’s military forces. The strategic location of Djibouti, a small country with a population of less than a million, makes its territory valuable for trade and geopolitical purposes. The U.S., Japan, and France already have permanent military bases in the African country. China’s new military base not only means that the Asian country has joined the club of nations with access to this strategic location, but also that Chinese government is willing to expand its sphere of influence beyond its natural region in East and Southeast Asia.

On the tip of the Horn of Africa, Djibouti guarantees access to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. At its narrowest point, a strait, only 18 miles wide, divides Africa from the Arabian Peninsula and it is the connection between the Indian Ocean via The Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea and the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal. The region is one of the most important sea lanes in the world, where millions of dollars of crude oil from the Persian Gulf and goods and products from Asia find its way to Europe every day. Moreover, the strategic location is important as a support base to monitor, and if is required to intervene, in the conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Sudan and other areas of the Middle East and Africa.

The Chinese government has highlighted the defensive and peaceful nature of the base. Geng Shuang, Chinese Foreign Minister, at a press briefing on Wednesday, referred to the base as part of the constant efforts to bring peace and security to the region and pointed that “China has been deploying naval ship to waters off Somalia in the Gulf of Aden to conduct escorting missions since 2008,” adding that, “the completion and operation of the base will help China better fulfil its international obligations in conducting escorting missions and humanitarian assistance… It will also help promote economic and social development in Djibouti.”

In recent years, China has been closing its ties with Africa. The country is one of the major contributors to the UN Peacekeeping missions, both with money and troops, as well as one of the most important investors in infrastructure projects. The military base means not only that China is committed to the security and stability of the region, but also that the Asian giant aims to strengthen its positions and influence in Africa and the Middle East in the future.

As a rising power, China has focused mainly on becoming the only power in East and South East Asia, facing some tensions with the U.S. in conflicts, such as the South China Sea. However, the first military base overseas means that China has decided to expand its influence and act not only as a regional power but maybe as a Great Power in the world, playing in more than one region at the time. In the past, the rise of a new power capable to challenge the international order has usually caused wars and conflicts with the ruling power, but so far, the rise of China has been peaceful, despite all the tensions with the U.S. However, the question now is whether this will continue to be the case?

Diego Cardona T.