China Military Base in Djibouti. What does it Mean for Horn of Africa?
By Ian Micheni
The arrival of Chinese troops in Djibouti is the country’s first overseas military base. Chinese agreement with Djibouti ensures that China pitches camp in the country up until 2026 with a force of up to 10,000 soldiers. Djibouti has become an area of interest to China and the Western powers as it is located on the tip of Horn of Africa thus offering strategic access to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. The Strait is 18 miles wide at its narrowest point and it connects the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean beyond. It’s due to such reasons that France, Japan and the USA have also established military bases in Djibouti.
The entrance of China has left India worried that China would form an alliance with countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan and threaten its interests. However, China refutes these claims and she argues that the new base will be used to support Chinese Navy going forward. In addition, China argues that the new base will help bring peace and security in the restive Horn of Africa region at the same time use it to fulfil its international obligation-offering humanitarian assistance. However, critics refute the claims advancing that China is making its military presence felt in the region giving it strategic presence to counter the American sphere of influence and leverage over key naval check points. This is an indication that China’s military strength is growing and the base will influence the cultural and political fiber of the country, and by extension, the Horn of Africa. This article gleans on the reason why China chose Djibouti as its first base in Africa and what this means to the Horn of Africa region.
In the past, Chinese troops have been involved in peace making missions in Libya and South Sudan, but the new base marks the first time the People’s Liberation Army has gone beyond China’s borders since the withdrawal from North Korea in 1958. Horn of Africa is set to benefit from the new base due to the close diplomatic relations that these countries have with China. Some scholars have asserted that the new base will be used to supply Navy ships taking part in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions in Somalia, Kenya and South Sudan. In addition, the base will be used in joint military exercises and cooperation with an aim to counter the pirate’s activities in the Indian Ocean.
China has focused on infrastructure development in the Horn of Africa region and the establishment of the base will strengthen and complement economic and trade relations in this region. Horn of Africa needs capital and technology while on the other hand, China needs raw materials, resources and access to markets for its goods and services. This move appears to go against China’s non-interference policy in which it does not meddle in the internal affairs of states. It is increasingly becoming apparent that this policy is both deceptive and divisive given the fact that China’s indiscriminative investments are in countries that have a reputation of bad governance, corruption and dictatorial governments key among them Zimbabwe and DRC Congo.
The base will also be used as a pathway for transportation of raw materials from Horn of Africa to China. For instance in Sudan and South Sudan, China has invested over 30billion US dollars in these oil rich countries. This happens at a time when other countries have distanced themselves from the two citing issues of conflict. Trade between Sudan and China is believed to have increased with latter selling arms to Sudan worth over 55 million dollars. It is on this basis that analysts argue that the base will be used as a Conduit for transportation of raw materials from Horn of Africa to China and electronics goods from China to Horn of Africa region. In addition, China has constructed a 750kilometre railway line that connects Ethiopia to the Red Sea via Djibouti. The new base in Djibouti will see the railway network being extended to Horn of Africa countries. This is with an aim of transporting material goods between these countries via the port of Djibouti to China.
Indeed, the growing security concerns and interest of states has affected the sovereignty of other countries. States legitimate security and national interest concerns should be consistent with international laws. Similarly, China interest of securing the Indian Ocean waters should not undermine the rules and laws of Djibouti and more so the Horn of Africa at large. In addition, states security both economic and political is certainly a legitimate interest of states. The state has the right to protect itself and in doing so, it will be protecting its population, including all its citizens and residents under jurisdiction both inside and outside its borders. It’s due to such reasons that China has undertaken its international obligations of securing the Indian Ocean waters and the red sea region with an aim of protecting its interest in the Horn of Africa region.