(Medeshi)- In May 2015, it was reported that China was going to establish a naval base in the East African nation of Djibouti. In that past, there has been much talk about Chinese overseas bases, but the Chinese official response to this news suggest the base is likely to be more than a rumour. The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not deny the report but instead stated 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.” Likewise, the Chinese Defence Ministry also expressed China’s willingness to “make even more contributions” to peace and stability of the region. More directly, the official Xinhua News Agency has argued that time is ripe for a base in Djibouti. The talk of a Chinese naval base in Djibouti seems to confirm a 2014 report from Washington predicting the establishment of Chinese “dual-use” bases in the Indian Ocean serving both commercial and security functions. All of this brings to mind three questions: First, why would China choose to increase its Indian Ocean presence? Second, what is the strategic environment in which China has to operate? And third, what are the strategic implications for Sino-U.S. strategic interactions and China’s maritime strategy?
The increasing importance of the Indian Ocean to vital Chinese maritime interests form the rationale of having a Chinese base in the area. Although the official white paper “China’s Military Strategy” did not explicit confirm an out-of-area naval base, it did designate several reasons requiring the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) presence in Indian Ocean. A base in the Horn of Africa is consistent with the strategic shift from solely “offshore waters defence” to a combined “offshore waters defence” and “open seas protection.”
The white paper states that “traditional mentality that ‘land outweighs sea’ must be abandoned” especially regarding sea lines of communication (SLOCs), of which, exports of manufactured goods and crude oil imports are paramount. Since a significant share of these rely on Indian Ocean sea lines, an out-of-area naval presence is almost a necessity. The February PLAN exercise in Lombok Strait sent a strong signal of increasing Chinese naval footprint in the Indian Ocean. Moreover, the PLAN has responded to several non-traditional security contingencies near the Horn of Africa. For instance, the PLAN has conducted a series of evacuation operations in the nearby states of Yemen, Libya, and Syria. China has also operated in the Gulf of Aden as a part of the international anti-piracy force since 2008. The official white paper states that the abilities and experiences in dealing with non-traditional challenges should be extended into traditional security areas.
Source : CIMCEC