NEW YORK - China has received a green light from Djibouti to build its first overseas military base in that Horn of Africa nation. The question is: will they get a welcome basket from neighbors France, Japan and the U.S.? All three have military bases there as well.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said the new facility will give logistical support to China's fleet that performs escort duties in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast.
Those escort missions have been ongoing for some years. With “real difficulties in replenishing soldiers and resupplying fuel and food”, China found it necessary to have nearby and efficient logistical support, he said.
Djibouti reportedly ordered the U.S. to vacate the Obock military base to make room for some 10,000 Chinese troops, according to CounterPunch, a U.S.-based news and commentary magazine. A $14 million U.S.-built naval pier facility in Obock, appears to be part of the deal.
U.S. Army Gen. David Rodriguez confirmed the news in an interview with Washington DC’s The Hill newspaper. China would be building a forward logistics hub in the country perched near the busy international maritime path between Europe and Southeast Asia, he said.
“That will be their first military location in Africa,” he told The Hill, adding that China signed a 10-year contract with the African nation.
The base gives China an airfield that could significantly improve its intelligence gathering capabilities over the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Eastern Libya and well into Central Africa.
China’s move to Djibouti represents a challenge to the dominance of the United States with its permanent base at Camp Lemonnier, from which it conducts intelligence, counter-piracy and counterterrorism operations.
Less well-known is the record of President Ismail Guelleh, his uncle and his ruling People’s Rally for Progress. They control all 65 seats in Parliament, most of the press, and have done so since independence from France in 1977. In December, between 19 and 37 people were killed by police for holding a rally, according to opposition reports. Over 100 injuries were reported.
Neither the African Union nor Washington commented, except to issue a call for dialogue.
“It’s for this very reason we need democracy,” said Abdourahman Boreh of the opposition Union pour le Salut National. “Here is one of the most strategic countries in the world essentially run by one man, with huge revenues from foreign armies and the port, yet the people lack running water.” [International Press Syndicate | 26 January 2016]
Photo: Djibouti President Guelleh (left) with Jia Qinglin, top Chinese advisor