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Djibouti - China Naval Base

Djibouti's government terminated a contract with Dubai's DP World in February 2018 that stripped the port operator of its rights to run the Doraleh Container Terminal. American lawmakers believed Djibouti's government scrapped the deal in order to nationalize the port and then offer it as a gift to Beijing. DP World said the move was illegal and took its concerns to the London Court of International Arbitration to help settle the dispute. "If the Chinese took over that port, then the consequences would be significant," United States Marine General Thomas Waldhauser told House lawmakers on 13 March 2018.

In July 2017, the Chinese Defense Ministry opened up a naval logistics center in Djibouti a few miles from the US' Camp Lemonnier. The base's opening marked a notable step in the People's Liberation Army Navy's ambition to become a blue-water navy as it is China's first overseas military base. "Djibouti happens to be the first there will be more," Waldhauser said, noting that there are "some indications" Beijing is seeking more facilities in Africa.

On 10 January 2017, the Djibouti-Ethiopia railway, built by China, was inaugurated in Djibouti for commercial exploitation. Wang Yi, the head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, called on African countries to intensify cooperation in the joint construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt during his mission to the African continent. The official launch of the Djibouti-Addis Ababa railroad was called by the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post an important step towards increasing China's influence in the region. It is the first electrified railway line in Africa, whose construction was made possible by China's capital and technology and resource supplies. Beijing funded about 70 percent of this project worth four billion dollars. In addition, China has trained more than 20,000 local experts for the construction of this railway and will now direct this infrastructure. Before, the road from Djibouti to Addis Ababa took three days by road and now lasts ten hours.

China's plans to open a military facility in Djibouti gave US pundits the chills, with commentators suggesting that Beijing may be attempting to "edge out Western influence" in Africa and the Middle East. Russian experts suggested that the base is, more than anything, a sign that China is ready to emerge as a great naval power.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Djibouti on January 8, 1979, bilateral relations have made a steady advancement. The Chinese defense ministry had long stressed that no Chinese military base exists overseas. The Chinese PLA Navy conducted escort missions in the Gulf of Aden for the first time since May, 2009. The PLA Navy had never encountered such long duty cycles before. Many problems never existed in previous domestic and offshore exercises were exposed. Among them, the lack of supply from the ashore bases was very protruding.

China had sent 26 batches of escort formations to escort in the Gulf of Aden. Almost all of the naval main ships have participated in escort operations. China is more than 7,000 kilometers away from the Gulf of Aden. The naval formations need a 7-9-day voyage to reach the mission area. After a few months of escort operations in the local area, it is necessary to return long distances to the formation crew. The existing escort fleet mode was very uneconomical and lacks sustainability. With the completion of the Djibouti logistics support base, not only can the crew of the escort fleet be able to land and rest regularly, but also transportation and supplies do not have to rely entirely on domestic delivery. Some of the supplies can even be directly airlifted, which can greatly improve the quality of life of the dispatched officers and soldiers.

Djibouti is the key point of west line of the sea in OBOR Strategy, and it is the first connection point to connect Asia, Africa and Europe. Its located in the west coast of Gulf of Aden and faced to Bab el-Mandab, its the transport hub of Europe, Asia, and Africa, the location choke throat of the Red Sea into the Indian Ocean. France, the United States, Japan and etc. set up military bases here, so Djibouti is also known as "the world's naval capital", it is an important geopolitical country.

The ceremony marking the entry of troops into the PLA support base in Djibouti was held on 01 August 2017 in the bases barracks. Chinas Central Military Commission chose a special team of 80 officers and soldiers for construction of the base on Dec. 15, 2015. Although desert and volcanoes occupy 90 percent of the land of Djibouti, and the country is extremely short of natural resources, the team built the base in less than a year, with communication facilities and logistics support facilities basically reaching the same standards as in China


A research report drafted by the National Defense University (NDU) of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) was submitted to China's Central Military Commission (CMC) in 2013. The report proposed that China should build a military base in Djibouti. Chinese President Xi Jinping, also chairman of the CMC, approved the report.

Kristina Wong reported 24 November 2015 that "China is establishing its first military base in Africa, according to a top U.S. general, providing yet another sign of its growing reach beyond the Asia-Pacific. "They are going to build a base in Djibouti, so that will be their first military location in Africa," U.S. Army Gen. David Rodriguez, the commander of U.S. Africa Command, recently told defense reporters."

The Chinese navy wrapped up its evacuation mission of Chinese nationals from Yemen to Djibouti on 09 April 2015. The naval ships also helped over 270 foreign citizens flee the conflict zone. In an interview with CCTV, the Chinese ambassador to Djibouti spoke highly of the help and assistance from the Djibouti side.

"In order to make the transition smooth for Chinese nationals, Djibouti has provided unprecedented assistance to us. We've asked for necessary support and convenience in terms of the entrance of Chinese naval ships, the entry and temporary settlement of Chinese nationals, as well as a guarantee of safety. The Djibouti side has required their related departments including national security, immigration, as well as ports to offer comprehensive cooperation. When our naval ships arrived in Djibouti, their port authority gave access to our evacuees and streamlined all entry procedures before we submitted related documents," said Fu Huaqiang, Chinese ambassador to Djibouti.

In an 23 April 2015 article titled China Comes to Djibouti, Foreign Affairs magazine said that Washington would need to band together with other allies such as France, Germany and Japan to try and counter Chinas growing influence in Djibouti. If it doesnt, Washington might find that the country hosting its only military base in sub-Saharan Africa owes more favors to China, its rising global rival, than to the United States itself, the magazine said.

By mid-May 2015 China was reported in talks to establish a military outpost in the strategic country. Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh told the Agence France-Presse news agency that talks were underway with the Chinese for a new military base, saying China would be a welcome addition to the growing international military presence in Djibouti. Frances presence is old, and the Americans found that the position of Djibouti could help in the fight against terrorism in the region, Guelleh told the news agency. The Japanese want to protect themselves from piracy, and now the Chinese also want to protect their interests, and they are welcome.

China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on 12 May 2015 that friendly cooperation between China and Djibouti has achieved constant growth over recent years, with practical cooperation carried out in various fields. Hua made the remarks at the daily press conference as a response to a question whether the Chinese side is negotiating with Djibouti about building a military base there.

"We have noted the relevant report. China and Djibouti enjoy traditional friendship. Friendly cooperation between the two sides has achieved constant growth over recent years, with practical cooperation carried out in various fields. What needs to be pointed out is that regional peace and stability serves the interests of all countries and meets the aspirations shared by China, Djibouti and other countries around the world. The Chinese side is ready and obliged to make more contributions to that end," Hua said.

By mid-2015 the United States appeared about to lose one of its military installations in the Republic of Djibouti, America's largest permanent military base in Africa and the home to more than 4,000 US personnel. The government of the tiny country seemingly had a change of heart and reportedly wanted to host a Chinese military contingent of about 10,000 instead.

"The announcement, made the day after US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Djibouti last May, is deeply worrying for Pax Americana, for it comes on top of a major package of economic investments by China that has Djiboutian President Guelleh openly talking about the importance of his new friends from Asia," Eritrea-based journalist Thomas Mountain pointed out. In his article "US vs China in Djibouti" published by, Mountain underscored that the Pentagon pays Djibouti almost $63 million a year for the use of Camp Lemonnier. The US military installation also serves as one of the world's largest drone bases.

In May 2015 Joe Gould reported in Defense News that "China is negotiating a military base in the strategic port of Djibouti, raising the prospect of US and Chinese bases in the tiny Horn of Africa nation and the latest example of China exerting its military muscle."

"There's a much larger story, and this is emblematic," said Alex Sullivan, an Asia-Pacific analyst at the Center for a New American Security. "China is becoming more active in international security affairs than at any time in the history of the People's Republic because they have an increasing global interest.

In November 2015 China was said to be establishing a military base in Djibouti, the country's first in Africa. Beijing was said to have signed a ten-year leasing agreement with Djibouti to build a logistical hub.

Experts said the expansion posed a challenge to US global military dominance. "US global leadership is predicated heavily on the US role in protecting and to an extent controlling sea lanes of communication," said J. Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council. "If China establishes itself as a fellow protector of the global commons, then it certainly increases its stature."

A senior Chinese military official's visit to Djibouti sparked concerns that China will build its first overseas military base. Fang Fenghui, chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, visited the Chinese warship Sanya in Djibouti on 10 November 2015. Fang inspected the ship's facilities and appraised the performance of fleet officers and soldiers off the Somalia coast and in the Gulf of Aden, according to the website of the Ministry of Defense.

Vasili Kashin, an expert on the Chinese military at the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies & Technologies, suggested 30 November 2015 that the negotiations are "important, first and foremost, from a political point of view."

According to Kashin, "as far as we can understand, this is a very modest object in terms of its scale, not unlike the logistics centers used in their own time by the Soviet Navy. However, the political significance of the event trumps its military importance. After all, this will be the first real Chinese military base abroad, even if it is truncated in form."

"Before this," the expert recalled, "the Chinese had something of a principled approach, saying that it was not their policy to establish a permanent military presence in other countries. In the past, there have been rumors of Chinese military intelligence facilities in other countries, for example, aimed at intercepting radio communications. But in this case we are dealing with a piece of infrastructure which will see the presence of actual troops."

With the Chinese Foreign Ministry noting that a final agreement had not yet been reached as of 30 November 2015, officials emphasized that the creation of the piece of maritime military infrastructure in Africa will assist the Chinese Navy in fulfilling its international obligations, first and foremost, its peacekeeping missions under the auspices of the UN.

Spokespersons for China's Ministry of National Defense (MND) never used the phrase "overseas military base." Wu Qian, spokesperson for China's MND, said on November 26, 2015 that China and Djibouti is negotiating on the construction of overseas support facilities. Wu Qian also expressed on February 25, 2016 that "Through friendly consultations between China and Djibouti, the two sides have reached consensus on China's building support facilities in Djibouti. Currently, construction of infrastructure for the support facilities has started.

China's military station would mainly serve as a supply station to support escort groups engaging in anti-terrorist and anti-piracy missions in the open sea. The Chinese navy has been supporting an escort mission for over six years. They often buy supplies such as fuel, vegetables and fruits at local spots.

Setting up a military base in Africa makes perfect sense given Chinas vast economic presence in the region, J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, said. The base would be cheaper than Chinas current, temporary arrangements that allow for docking ships at Djibouti ports to conduct naval patrols.... The base also gives China an airfield that could significantly improve its intelligence gathering capabilities over the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Eastern Libya and well into Central Africa.

Military bases can be divided into different types depending on the functions. The U.S. military has Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, the comprehensive base in Diego Garcia of the Indian Ocean and the naval base in Yokosuka in Japan. Chinas base in Djibouti aims to provide logistical supply for China's escort taskforces in the Gulf of Aden and thus it is a logistics base, and is not responsible for combat operations. This is also essentially different compared with bases of other countries in Djibouti as the rest all have operational functions.

UK-based Jane's Defence Weekly reported on 23 May 2018 that "China has begun to construct a pier at its military base in Djibouti." Satellite images showed construction began some time after the end of April, the report said, and that the newly constructed pier extended about 330 meters into the sea by 20 May 2018.

China will construct a facility at its base in Djibouti for anti-piracy purposes to safeguard peace and stability in the region and the world, the Ministry of National Defense said on Thursday after Western media reported that China was building a dock for naval vessels. "After holding talks with Djibouti, China has decided to build the necessary facilities at the base for either side to use," defense ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang told the Global Times on Thursday. The construction was to "better fulfill China's international responsibilities including anti-piracy work and to maintain the peace and stability of Africa and the world," Ren said.

Ren also said that a forum on China-Africa defense and security will be held in China from June 26 to July 10. Officials and officers of national defense departments of African countries are expected to attend it. The Chinese People's Liberation Army support base in Djibouti conducted live-fire drills on May 12 to gauge the performance of weapons and to prepare troops for counter-terrorism operations.

Obock - History

The actual location of the Chinese base remained a point of some uncertainty. Most early reports were not specific in this regard. A typical headline read "China is building its first overseas military base in Djibouti right next to a key US one". One Bloomberg map placed the base just to the West of the Khor Ambado recreational beach. Other reports stated that the Chinese base is at the port city of Obock, along the northern coast of the Gulf of Tadjoura.

Obock is where French colonialism in west Africa began. In 1862, the Afar sultans of Obock sold their land to the French, and construction of the town began. But it was soon eclipsed by Djibouti City. 1896: The administrative capital was moved from Obock to Djibouti to facilitate better trading from East Africa and Somalia. The last significant town before the border with Eritrea, Obock exudes a kind of 'last frontier' feel, far from the hullabaloo of Djibouti City.

It was obvious that the port at Djibouti was in everyway superior to Obock in extent and as a harbor. The space at Obock, near the rocks, was a square 500 meters to a side, or 25 hectares. In Djibouti there are 80 hectares with a minimum depth of 7 meters at low tide.

The French Somali coast, formerly called Obock, lay between the Italian Erythrea and the English Somali. Djibouti owed its origin to its strategic position at the southern entrance of the Red Sea. Eventually the French recognized that Obock could not fulfill any of the conditions necessary for the restoration of the maritime station which France had great interest in possessing at the exit of the Red Sea, opposite the point where the English were so firmly established by the creation of Aden and Perim.

Obock was bought by France from the Sultan of Tadjourah in 1838, at the time when Britain had appropriated Prim, but became officially French land only in 1862, and since that time the English port of Zeilah grew gradually and attracted most of the caravans trading with the interior. The obstacles to the development of Obock were numerous, for this port had only a bad open roadstead and, on the opposite side of the sea, it was surrounded by arid or inaccessible regions inhabited by savage tribes.

In 1888, some French merchants came to settle opposite Obock, on the other side, that is to say on the southern coast of the Gulf of Tadjourah, which opens into the African coast at the bottom of the gulf Of Aden, near the Straits of Bab-elMandeb. They founded the city of Djibouti, and in 1893, the Government moved the headquarters of the colony from Obock, which then took the name protectorate of the coast of Somaliland.

Obock, situated nearer the English island of Perin which commanded the entrance of the Red Sea had to be abandoned for want of potable water. It was replaced by Djibouti, the terminus adopted by the caravans of Choa and Harrar. The importance of this French colony was commercial; it is the natural port for the richest part of the Empire of Menelik. It was also the landing point of the submarine cables to Madagascar and to Indo China. In time of war, it would be a coaling and revictualing station for French war ships.The French had assigned four patrol boats to Obock-Djibouti. These were reinforced by two others that were assigned Maskali-Bebera, in part to intercept traffic coming up from Madagascar.

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Page last modified: 02-06-2018 18:31:08 ZULU