China military cements its presence in Africa

Saturday July 15 2017

J-15 fighter jets on the flight deck of China’s

J-15 fighter jets on the flight deck of China’s sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, as it arrived in Hong Kong waters on July 7, 2017. PHOTO | AFP 

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China has sent soldiers to its first overseas military base in Africa, cementing Beijing’s growing clout on the continent.

On Wednesday, two warships set sail with personnel to complete setting up of the facility in Djibouti. The base, coupled with the country’s economic interests, now firmly places it at the centre of Africa’s growth and security.

The base will also be used for joint training and exercises to improve China’s position in the global arms race, which has seen many of the continent’s militaries use Chinese manufactured weapons.

China will now join the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Qatar as countries maintaining a military presence at the Horn of Africa.

Beijing says the base will bolster China’s performance of missions such as ship security escorts, peacekeeping and humanitarian aid in Africa.

China’s navy commander Shen Jinlong said the establishment of the base was agreed to after negotiations by the two countries and were in accord with the common interest of their citizens.

“The Djibouti base will also be conducive to military co-operation, joint exercises, evacuating and protecting Chinese citizens working overseas, emergency rescue missions, as well as jointly maintaining security of international strategic seaways,” Commander Jinlong said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that the base would enable China to make new and greater contributions to peace in Africa and the world and would benefit Djibouti’s development.

“Other military bases station troops and conduct military training in contrast with the specialised function of logistical support that the Chinese base will have,” Xu Guangyu, a senior adviser to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association told the state-run Global Times.

Washington’s reaction

China began construction of a logistics base in Djibouti in 2016, saying that it would use it as a resupply point for its navy vessels taking part in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions off the coasts of Yemen and Somalia.

However, observers see this base as the beginning of Beijing’s military development and foray into Africa. Beijing’s official communication and the military both offered different accounts on what status this facility will hold.

The People’s Liberation Army saw its daily paper reinforce what its naval chief said adding that China would not be seeking military expansionism or to get into an arms race in the region.

“This facility will increase China’s ability to ensure global peace, especially because it has so many UN peacekeepers in Africa and was also invol