China Expands Reach with Military Base in East Africa

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China plans to build its first overseas military base in the east African nation of Djibouti.

Experts say the move is part of a global economicstrategy and reflects growing ties with Africa

China says the naval base in Djibouti will be a logisticsand supply center. It is China’s first overseas militaryinstallation.

The United States, France and Japan also have bases in Djibouti. The smallEast African country is close to areas of conflict in Africa like Somalia and theSahel, the southern border area of the Sahara Desert. It is on the Gulf ofAden, which is an important global trade route linking the Red Sea to theIndian Ocean.

Peking University professor of international relations Wang Dong says theinstallation will be needed to protect China’s shipping routes. He says it will beused for resupply.

China has increased its military activity in Africa over several years. Thenation deployed U.N. peacekeeping troops to South Sudan this yearChinahas provided ships to anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden since 2008. But, the country’s foreign policy has been based on non-interference in othercountriesinternal affairs.

Alex Vines is head of the Africa program at London-based Chatham House. He says the Chinese are experimenting with this new base.

They still want to emphasize that China is different from other powers inAfrica, so it’s not like France, that has military bases in various places, or the U.S. that has a military base at Camp Lemonnier. So they’re framing this asjust a naval facility. In effect, though, this is about Chinese experimentation,longer term, how will African governments react?”

Alexander Neil is a senior fellow at the Institute for Strategic Studies Asiaoffice in Singapore. He says the Chinese are enlarging their footprint inAfrica in other ways.

China has been developing a foreign trade and investment strategy known as “one belt, one road.” It refers to setting land and maritime trade routes. It islike a modern-day version of the historical Silk Road between China and theWest that existed more than 500 years ago.

Neil says in the past, China only sought to extract raw materials from Africa. In a shift, he says, China has been building infrastructure, providing interest-free loans and building business ties and partnerships.

Every three years, China has doubled its financial support for Africa: from $5billion in 2006 to $10 billion in 2009 and then to $20 billion in 2012. WhenChinese President Xi Jinping was in South Africa last week, he promised $60billion in loans and aid to Africa.

That followed announcements of $156 million in emergency food aid fordrought-stricken nations. And a further $60 million for an African Union militaryrapid-response force was also promised.

I’m Mario Ritter.