China has conducted live drills in its military base at Djibouti, a tiny African nation.
Djibouti is a tiny nation in Africa located in Bab el-Mandeb Strait. It is considered a gateway to the Suez Canal which is one of the world's busiest shipping routes. However, the small African nation is prized for its prime geopolitical location. As it is close to restive areas in both Middle East and Africa, it has become a haven for foreign military bases. The country is only 20 miles from Yemen. This has also assured steady flow of foreign assistance to the relatively stable country. The nation is home to just over 800,000 people.
A number of nations have established their military bases in this country. This includes, Camp Lemonnier, a U.S. Expeditionary base. There are also bases belonging to France, Italy, Spain and Japan. In 2017, China opened a fully operation military base in the country. It cost a total of $590 million to build and was primarily financed by China. It is the first overseas military base of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). According to Aboubaker Omar Hadi, the chairman of Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority, China has already invested nearly $15 billion in Djibouti’s port expansion and related infrastructure development.
During the official launch of the base, state news agency Xinhua noted that the military base “will ensure China’s performance of missions, such as escorting, peace-keeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and west Asia.” It added, “The base will also be conducive to overseas tasks including military cooperation, joint exercises, evacuating and protecting overseas Chinese and emergency rescue, as well as jointly maintaining security of international strategic seaways.”
In September 2017, the troops that were stationed at the base have completed live-fire drills for the first time. Base commander Liang Yang said, “This is the first time our soldiers stationed in Djibouti have left the camp to conduct combat training. The live-fire training will help explore a new training model for the [Chinese] overseas garrison.” Li added, “The PLA troops based in Djibouti should be able to protect themselves and resist attacks from terrorists, pirates, local armed forces, or even foreign troops.”
The troops who participated in the exercise used different kinds of weapons such as pistols and automatic weapons to fire at targets.
Beijing-based military commentator Zhou Chenming said the high-profile drills were a message to local militants “not to harass” the PLA troops. He said, “Since the political situation in Djibouti is very unstable, the troops need to let local armed groups know of their combat strength. They need to tell them that the Chinese forces are there not only to set up the logistics base but must also be able to deal with all kinds of security challenges.”
Our assessment is that apart from expanding on its military clout, China is also looking to increase its influence in the African continent. By setting up the base in Djibouti, China is positioning itself close to the Suez Canal. Perhaps, it hopes to set up another One Belt One Road plan in the African region.