PLA's first overseas base in Djibouti

Source: China Military OnlineEditor: Zhang Tao
2016-04-12 11:28

Locations of foreign bases in Djibouti.(File Photo)

BEIJING, April 11(ChinaMil) -- A research report drafted by the National Defense University (NDU) of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) was submitted to China's Central Military Commission (CMC) in 2013. The report proposed that China should build a military base in Djibouti.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also chairman of the CMC, approved the report. From that moment on, Djibouti, a small African country unheard of by the majority of Chinese people, was marked down in history for China's first overseas military base.

Why China needs an overseas military base?

According to public reports, front-line troops of the PLA are in urgent demand for overseas base. This is definitely an important reason why China decided to build overseas base.

The Chinese PLA Navy conducted escort missions in the Gulf of Aden for the first time since May, 2009. The PLA Navy had never encountered such long duty cycles before. Many problems never existed in previous domestic and offshore exercises were exposed. Among them, the lack of supply from the ashore bases was very protruding.

"Very tough! Very tough!" said Captain Liu Jianzhong in an interview when recalling his experience as the then political commissar of the guided-missile destroyer Haikou with China's first escort taskforce to the Gulf of Aden. "At that time, we had been at sea for six months in a row! For six months, we hadn't reached the shore and a lot of sailors had gotten physical and psychological problems," Liu added.

According to a mental health survey of 172 officers and sailors assigned to the 4th Chinese escort taskforce, 52 suffered from mild depression disorder, 27 suffered from moderate depression disorder and 4 suffered from severe depression disorder.

It needs to know that the officers and sailors of the 4th escort taskforce had received some psychological protection education based on previous escort experiences and they had been able to take short breaks in the port of Djibouti. Therefore, we can imagine how hard life was for the first escort taskforce of the Chinese PLA Navy.

Zheng Wenhao, a sailor who has participated in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) and has had in-depth exchanges with his U.S. counterparts, said that it is impossible for U.S. sailors not to go ashore for over six months.

"Although the U.S. Navy has global deployment, they will arrange rests at ports during the voyage," Zheng Wenhao continued, "In the RIMPAC exercise, sailors of the international navies were very excited when their ships arrived in the port. Port is necessary for sailors executing high-sea operations. If you are not in front-line troops, you do not know how urgent the demand for overseas naval bases is!"

The personnel need shore bases, so do materials and supplies. The PLA Navy's escort taskforce is consisted of two destroyers or frigates plus a supply ship. The supply ship is responsible for replenishment-at-sea for combat ships.

Although this can meet the logistical needs of the taskforce, the supply ship itself also consumes supplies. All the materials are shipped from Chinese domestic bases more than ten thousand kilometers away and it is very costly to do so. Construction of China's own supply base near the Gulf of Aden is the urgent demand of the Chinese PLA Navy.

Djibouti’s location.

What does the base mean to China?

Spokespersons for China's Ministry of National Defense (MND) never used the phrase "overseas military base." Wu Qian, spokesperson for China's MND, said on November 26, 2015 that China and Djibouti is negotiating on the construction of overseas support facilities.

Wu Qian also expressed on February 25, 2016 that "Through friendly consultations between China and Djibouti, the two sides have reached consensus on China's building support facilities in Djibouti. Currently, construction of infrastructure for the support facilities has started. "

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi used the term "logistical support facilities" on March 8, 2016, when answering a question concerning the base in Djibouti. What information does this official term reveal?

Military bases can be divided into different types depending on the functions. The U.S. military has Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, the comprehensive base in Diego Garcia of the Indian Ocean and the naval base in Yokosuka in Japan.

China’s base in Djibouti aims to provide logistical supply for China's escort taskforces in the Gulf of Aden and thus it is a logistics base, and is not responsible for combat operations. This is also essentially different compared with bases of other countries in Djibouti as the rest all have operational functions.

Well, what does the base mean to China? Is it just to provide supplies for China's escort taskforces in the Gulf of Aden?

Reporter with Phoenix Satellite TV asked questions to Wang Yi on the Djibouti base and expanding of China’s overseas interests at the press conference of the fourth session of China's 12th National People’s Congress.

Wang Yi replied, "You mentioned China’s growing overseas interests. I think it is the key to understanding the matter. Like any major country that is growing, China’s overseas interests are expanding. At present, there are 30,000 Chinese enterprises all over the world and several million Chinese are working and living in all corners of the world. Last year, China’s non-financial outbound direct investment reached 118 billion U.S. dollars and the stock of China’s overseas assets reached several trillion U.S. dollars. So it has become a pressing task for China’s diplomacy to better protect our ever-growing overseas interests."

This is the meaning of the Djibouti base for China. The PLA’s responsibilities today have gone beyond the scale of guarding the Chinese territories. The PLA must protect China's interests anywhere in the world. Overseas military bases will provide cutting-edge support for China to guard its growing overseas interests.

Of course, as China's first overseas military base, the Djibouti base has more important meanings. A Navy commander said that Djibouti will provide China with experience of building overseas military bases. After all, China has not had any such bases before. Djibouti is just the first step.

Next page