Climate Change / Sustainable Development

China establishes first overseas military base

In dispatching its  PLA (Peoples Liberation Army)  marines to Djibuti in the Horn of Africa on Wednesday (July 12 ) by amphibious ships, from the southern port of Zhanjiang, China has taken a significant step in enhancing its  trans-border military footprint.

Jul 13, 2017
By C Uday Bhaskar
 
In dispatching its  PLA (Peoples Liberation Army)  marines to Djibuti in the Horn of Africa on Wednesday (July 12 ) by amphibious ships, from the southern port of Zhanjiang, China has taken a significant step in enhancing its  trans-border military footprint.
 
A permanent Chinese military presence in Djibuti marks the first ever overseas military base for Beijing and the strategic location of Djibuti in proximity of the Red Sea will make China a credible Indian Ocean power with its attendant implications that will have a high degree of salience for the Indian Ocean region (IOR)  - and Delhi in particular.
 
It is instructive that Beijing has embarked upon this Djibuti initiative even as India,  USA and Japan are commencing the operational phase of  their joint naval exercise, Malabar 2017 from Friday (July 14).  The image of three flat-tops (carriers)  operating in tandem in the Indian Ocean even as a PLA navy amphibious ship enroute to Djibuti  joins other  PLA navy units  including a surveillance ship,  may well be the abiding template for the extended IOR  in the years ahead.
 
China’s  triumphant public narrative marks December 2008 as a historical punctuation when Beijing sent three naval ships to join the  international  anti-piracy effort off the coast of Somalia. For the naval professional, there was a certain symbolism in PLA naval ships transiting the Straits of Malacca .  
 
The Chinese military base in Djibouti, when fully established with  appropriate assets,  will be yet another punctuation – this time in bold font!
 
The logic from the Chinese  perspective is compelling,  to break out of the politico-military constraints it has to address along its Pacific Ocean seaboard and access the Indian Ocean.  And China is not the first extra-regional power to seek a military foothold in the Horn of Africa and adjoining  regions.
 
The strategic imponderable is how this capability will be utilized. For the greater common good – or in defiance of  the  prevailing status quo ?
 
(C Uday Bhaskar can be contacted at cudaybhaskar@spsindia.in)

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