Ships carrying Chinese military personnel departed Zhanjiang in southern China's Guangdong Province on Tuesday to set up a support base in Djibouti.
Shen Jinlong, commander of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, read an order on constructing the base in Djibouti, and conferred military flag on the fleets.
The establishment of the PLA Djibouti base was a decision made by the two countries after friendly negotiations, and accords with the common interest of the people from both sides, according to the PLA navy. According to Xhinhua news agency, the base will ensure China's performance of missions, such as escorting, peace-keeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and west Asia.
The base will also be conducive to overseas tasks including military cooperation, joint exercises, evacuating and protecting overseas Chinese and emergency rescue, as well as jointly maintaining security of international strategic seaways.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said on Wednesday that the establishment of a Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) support base in Djibouti is a decision made by the two countries after friendly negotiations and will be conducive to China's performance of international obligations.
He said that in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions, China has deployed vessels to the Gulf of Aden and the waters off the Somali coast on escort missions since 2008. During the process of escorting, Chinese officers and men encountered difficulties in replenishing food and fuel, and Djibouti offered logistical support in multiple instances
Geng said the support base will better serve Chinese troops when they escort ships in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off the Somali coast, perform humanitarian rescue, and carry out other international obligations.
Moreover, the base will be conducive to driving Djibouti's economic and social development, and assist China's contribution to peace and stability both in Africa and worldwide.
Competing with Japan, US
Djibouti is located at the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb Strait at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal. The tiny, barren nation sandwiched between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia also hosts US, Japanese and French bases.
The establishment of the Chinese base in Djibouti is seen as a move meant the establish influence in a region where the US and its allies, especially Japan are operation.
Japan itself established Japan is already expanding a military base in Djibouti as a counterweight to what it sees as growing Chinese influence in the region.
China is seeking closer ties with African nations that could help it gain access to natural resources and provide new markets. Beijing said late last year it would pump $60 billion (6.2 trillion yen) into development projects on the continent, cancel some debt and help boost agriculture. As a counter measure, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told African leaders during a meeting in Kenya's capital Nairobi in August 2016 that his country will commit $30 billion in public and private support for infrastructure development, education and healthcare expansion in the continent.
Certainly the base in Djibouti would give China a strategic presence in Africa, a continent that the US considers its sphere of hegemonic influence. The base would also give Beijing leverage over a key naval and global maritime chokepoint.