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Djibouti - Japan Relations

Djibouti is being used as a base for the SDF’s anti-piracy mission off Somalia.

On 23 August 2016 Defense Ministry said it would conduct a transport exercise in Djibouti to practice evacuating Japanese nationals in a crisis situation. It was the first drill in the northeastern African country for transporting Japanese expatriates, ministry officials said Monday. The exercise was designed to improve the overseas deployment capabilities of the Self-Defense Forces using long-range aircraft and strengthen SDF cooperation with the U.S. military. The exercise ran until 01 September, with participation by some 150 personnel, including from the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Central Readiness Force Regiment based in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, and the Air Self-Defense Force’s 1st Tactical Airlift Wing based in Komaki, Aichi Prefecture. A KC-767 air refueling and transport aircraft wsa used.

On 28 August 2016, for approximately 20 minutes, Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, who was visiting Nairobi, Kenya, to attend the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI), held a Japan-Djibouti Summit Meeting with H.E. Ismaël Omar Guelleh, President of the Republic of Djibouti. At the beginning of the meeting, Prime Minister Abe expressed his gratitude for the warm welcome he received during his visit to Djibouti in 2013 and for Djibouti’s hosting of the TICAD Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM) this March. He also expressed his hope to cooperate with President Guelleh for ensuring the success of the TICAD meeting,a historically significant first summit meeting to be held in Africa. In response, President Guelleh offered his congratulations on the success of TICAD VI. President Guelleh expressed gratitude for Japan’s continued cooperation, and expressed his hope for further assistance, including for geothermal power generation.

Prime Minister Abe expressed gratitude for the continued support from Djibouti for the counter-piracy operations of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Prime Minister Abe also explained that a trainee from Djibouti will be received this year under the ABE Initiative and that Japan has decided to implement 140 million yen in food aid to Djibouti, to which President Guelleh expressed his gratitude. In addition, the two leaders also exchanged views on matters such as cooperation in the international arena. The two leaders concurred on the importance of the freedom of navigation as leaders of two maritime nations.

Japan is seeking to expand its military base in Djibouti, east Africa, in response to Chinese influence in the region. Government sources confirmed 13 October 2016 that they were asking permission from the local authorities to expand the territory of a base used by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF). “In addition to the land Japan has borrowed, it is considering leasing the neighboring land to its east,” an official told Reuters. “Japan is now in negotiations with Djibouti government.”

The 30-acre facility, located next to the US Camp Lemonnier base, is the SDF’s first outside of Japan and was established in 2011 to help monitor piracy in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia. Manned by a force of 180 troops, the base has also played host to a number of exercises, including joint drills with the Americans. The expansion of the base will be justified by the need to have takeoff and landing sites for aircraft in order to evacuate Japanese citizens in case of a regional emergency.

However, the sources also told Reuters the proposed expansion is driven by a need to counter the growing influence of China, which has been investing heavily in Africa. Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged $60 billion to help fund infrastructure, healthcare, agriculture and development on the continent. In turn, Japan has pledged $30 billion for similar projects in August 2016. “China is putting money into new infrastructure and raising its presence in Djibouti, and it is necessary for Japan gain more influence,” another Japanese official told to Reuters.

Japan’s notably pacifist constitution, drawn up after WWII, bars it from any military engagements except in cases of self-defense. However, a controversial amendment passed in 2015 expanded this to ‘collective self-defense’ for allies and this, together with Japan’s plans to expand their Djibouti base, has not gone unnoticed in Beijing. “Japan's military and security policies have garnered full attention in Asia and the international community due to historical reasons,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a press conference. “We hope that Japan can draw lessons from history, reflect trend of the times, and truly follow the path of peaceful development.”

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Page last modified: 13-10-2016 19:38:08 ZULU