A senior Chinese military official's visit to the east African country of Djibouti has sparked concerns that China will build its first overseas military base, which experts consider over-politicized.
Fang Fenghui, chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, visited the Chinese warship Sanya in Djibouti on Sunday. Fang inspected the ship's facilities and appraised the performance of fleet officers and soldiers off the Somalia coast and in the Gulf of Aden, according to the website of the Ministry of Defense.
The visit, however, renewed speculation on a military base in the African country. Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh was quoted by AFP as saying in May that discussions were ongoing and Beijing's presence would be "welcome."
Analysts said it is normal for a senior military official to visit PLA soldiers especially at the end of the year, urging not to politicize or over-interpret the visit.
In response to a question raised at a briefing in May that an overseas military base will add to fears of a so-called "China threat," China's foreign ministry has neither confirmed nor denied them, only saying that friendly cooperation between China and Djibouti has achieved constant growth and cooperation in various fields. "It should be emphasized that regional peace and stability serve the interests of all countries and meet the shared aspirations of China, Djibouti and other countries around the world. China is prepared and obliged to make greater contributions to that end," Hua Chunying, ministry spokesperson, told the briefing.
The defense ministry also stressed that no Chinese military base exists overseas.
It is unfair to hype up the "China threat" as China's military base will mainly serve as a supply station even if it is created to support escort groups engaging in anti-terrorist and anti-piracy missions in the open sea, Li Jie, a navy military expert, told the Global Times.
"The Chinese navy has been supporting an escort mission for over six years. They often buy supplies such as fuel, vegetables and fruits at local spots," Zhang Junshe, a research fellow at the China Naval Research Institute, told the Global Times.