China’s Military Expansion Into Africa

China’s Military Expansion Into Africa
Photo Credit: Reuters / 達誌影像

What you need to know

·China is expanding its military in light of national interests in the African region. ·This may signal China’s desire to increase international participation.

Following its establishment of a logistics center in Djibouti, Africa, China has expressed hopes to construct more military bases to “safeguard its national interests.”

One prime concern was piracy in the region; the Horn of Africa where Djibouti is located is seen as one of the major regions of piracy. China had been involved in anti-piracy operations in the region since 2008. With the creation of the logistics center, Colonel Wu Qian stated its mission to be “logistical support and personnel recuperation of the Chinese armed forces conducting such missions as maritime escort in the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somali coast, peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance.”

This followed China’s increased participation on the international stage, such as expanding its UN peacekeeping force by 8,000 troops and the inauguration of a joint gasline project with Ethiopia, set to be completed by 2018.

Understanding that the move to build more military facilities would draw suspicion, China avoids describing its facility in Djibouti as a ‘military’ base, preferring to use the terms ‘support facilities’ or ‘logistical facilities’ instead. As work began on the logistics center in Djibouti, the Chinese foreign ministry confirmed its role to be purely logistical in nature, not power projection.

When asked about the initiative, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi says the move is “reasonable, logical and compatible with international norms.” He pointed out the tremendous number of Chinese businesses operating across the world and the concern to provide adequate security to its citizens; Chinese naval vessels had to evacuate hundreds of Chinese and foreigners from Yemen in April due to civil war.

It is important to note that Djibouti also has military bases established by the United States, France and Japan. China however seeks to not adhere to the “old method of expansionism” of constant infringement of sovereignty and power-politics that the West is historically associated with.

This comes as China is shoring up relations with Middle Eastern countries under the “One Belt, One Road” economic initiative of increased trade and cooperation with China and its allies. The interest to build several military centers at different locations, including Djibouti, may affect relations especially with wary countries such as those surrounding the South China Sea, the United States and India.

India already had been cautious of China’s naval projection and the news does not bode well with the implication being, “While the PLAN would continue to increase naval exercises… an Indian contingency could become a reality.”

For the countries surrounding the South China Sea, it presents a precedent that they had suffered for sometime over China’s military buildup on the Spratly Islands.

Edited by Olivia Yang

“China hints more bases on way after work begins on naval hub in Djibouti” (Yahoo News)
“Djibouti: Ethiopia, Djibouti, China Announce Mega Gas Project” (allAfrica)
“More Chinese bases abroad? Beijing ‘willing’ to build facilities to protect overseas interests” (South China Morning Post)
“Confirmed: Construction Begins on China’s First Overseas Military Base in Djibouti” (The Diplomat)
“Port de Djibouti: China’s First Permanent Naval Base in the Indian Ocean” (Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses)
“China deploys fighter jets to South China Sea island” (The Comment)