UNITED NATIONS — Nearly six hundred years ago, huge Chinese fleets plied the Indian Ocean sailing as far as Arabia and the East African coast.
The epic seaborne expeditions carried out between 1405 and 1432 under Adm. Cheng Ho and during the glorious Ming Dynasty were larger and far more encompassing than subsequent Portuguese and Dutch voyages almost a century later. China’s Imperial Court sought trade, tribute, and exotic treasures, not formal colonization nor religious conversion.
A decade ago, sleek modern vessels of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), China’s maritime military arm, joined American, British, and Dutch vessels on UN sanctioned anti-piracy missions off the Somali coast. Modern day Somali pirates, linked to criminal and terrorist networks were attacking merchant shipping. The ongoing anti-piracy efforts have largely stopped the source of piracy.
Now the Beijing government has set up a formal military base on the African continent; the first of its kind by the People’s Republic of China. The base in Djibouti under construction is officially dubbed as a logistics center.
Why Djibouti? Well look at the map.
It’s the geographic Pivot point along the Maritime Silk Road linking the Indian Ocean with Africa and the Middle East. It equally anchors the PRC military’s “string of pearls” bases in Burma, Sri Lanka and Pakistan which seek both to outflank India and to protect China’s petroleum lifeline.
This tiny former French colony sits astride the Bar Al Mandeb, a vital shipping channel connecting Suez in the North with the Red Sea and Indian Ocean in the south.
Djibouti’s geostrategic position is all about location, location, location. Think of Gibraltar or Singapore without the prosperity. Significantly, 80 percent of the world petroleum transits the Indian Ocean via a series of maritime “choke points.” Thus, China’s proximity to the southern reaches of the Red Sea is not coincidental.
Djibouti is a poor country on the Horn of Africa dependent on leasing military base facilities to the United States and France and now China. The Chinese base under construction stands only three miles from a U.S. facility Camp Lemonnier, which hosts 4,000 American military personnel. China is equally investing $185 million in Djibouti’s commercial seaport.
China’s ambitious Maritime Silk Route is developing in parallel with her military’s growing capacity for force projection. Djibouti is one of those pieces that fits into the larger puzzle of the PRC’s geo-strategic chess game.
Full article: Why communist China’s first foreign military base? Location, Location, Location (World Tribune)