China is building its first overseas military outpost just miles from the largest U.S. military base in Africa.
The Chinese naval base in Djibouti is positioned on a 90-acre plot of land and expected to be completed next year, according to the Wall Street Journal. China’s construction of the base represents one of Beijing’s latest efforts to establish itself as a global maritime power.
The Chinese naval base is close to Camp Lemonnier, the U.S. base in Djibouti, which supports roughly 4,000 U.S. and allied military and civilian personnel and defense contractors. It is the primary base of operations for U.S. Africa Command.
The Journal reported:
The naval outpost is expected to feature weapons stores, ship and helicopter maintenance facilities and possibly a small contingent of Chinese marines or special forces, according to foreign officers and experts monitoring its development. Its cluster of low-rise concrete buildings and shipping containers, some with Chinese flags, offers the most tangible sign yet of China’s strategy to extend its military reach across the Indian Ocean and beyond. … While Chinese officials deny plans to build large U.S.-style bases and call the Djibouti outpost a "support facility," they also talk openly about negotiating more overseas outposts where Chinese interests coalesce. … The Pentagon has predicted China will establish several more outposts in the next decade.
China has considerable investments in the region, mostly in oil and gas. China began investing in infrastructure in Djibouti in 2010 and confirmed in February that it had begun construction on the outpost. China has also supplied aircraft to Djibouti’s air force.
China’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that the outpost was built "is in order to better uphold international responsibilities and duties, and to protect China’s legal interests."
Djibouti’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mahamoud Ali Youssouf said that the outpost could house as many as 2,000 troops but would likely have 300. China will pay $20 million for the outpost each year for a decade, he said, and will be able to sign on for an additional 10 years.
A senior Western official told the Journal that the U.S. is worried that sensitive defense technology in the region would need to be moved if vulnerable to Chinese surveillance. Chinese hackers have successfully infiltrated U.S. government computer systems, including the massive cyber attack on the Office of Personnel Management database that compromised personal information of 22 million people last year.
The construction of the base comes as China continues to exercise maritime power in the Pacific, making aggressive territorial claims in the South China Sea and building manmade islands there. Beijing has refused to accept the ruling of an international tribunal, which concluded in July that China’s territorial claims in the sea have no legal or historical basis.
China has also conducted naval exercises in the South China Sea and built up military bases on disputed islands, in defiance of warnings from the United States and other nations.