China won’t follow US in expanding global military reach
China has no intention of following the US pattern of establishing military bases around the world to project its power over other countries, and China's facilities in Djibouti are meant to support Chinese peace-keeping and anti-piracy missions near Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, analysts said.
Western media have been closely following China's latest moves in this small East African nation since it announced the building of military logistics facilities in February, saying that China is building its first overseas military base.
"Due for completion next year, the naval outpost is expected to feature weapons stores, ship and helicopter maintenance facilities and possibly a small contingent of Chinese marines or special forces," the Wall Street Journal on Friday cited experts monitoring the base's development as saying.
The newspaper said the outpost is a historic step that marks a bold new phase in China's evolution as a world power. It went on to say that it is a sign of "China's strategy to extend its military reach across the Indian Ocean and beyond."
"They are misinterpreting China's foreign policy, believing that China intends to follow the US pattern of building military bases globally or to meddle in other countries' domestic affairs," Li Weijian, a professor of West Asian and African Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, told the Global Times.
For decades China has strived to stay out of other countries' domestic affairs as the US toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and tried, though without success, to "plant the seeds of democracy" in the Middle East.
China has a very limited overseas military deployment and the country largely lacks the capacity to protect its citizens and interests in Africa.
The US has military bases in 42 foreign countries, with Britain, France and Russia each having about a dozen bases in overseas territories, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Djibouti also hosts the largest American permanent military base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier, which is home to more than 4,000 personnel - mostly part of the Combined Joint Task Force - in the Horn of Africa, the BBC reported.
"The facilities in Djibouti serve to protect China's economic interests in Africa and to help safeguard regional peace, as China is only beginning to learn to behave like a responsible global power," Li said.
China greatly contributes to UN military missions in Africa, deploying 30,000 of its troops to 16 peacekeeping missions. Chinese troops also participate in anti-pirate operations in Somali waters.
All countries welcome
China's Ministry of National Defense admitted in February that China has begun construction on logistics facilities in Djibouti to support troops in ships in the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somali coast.
In response to assertions that "China is elbowing Americans out of the strategic East African footprint," Djibouti Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf said on August 16 that the country welcomes China's presence in Djibouti, "just as we previously welcomed forces from the US, NATO, France, the UK, Italy, and Japan, who are present in our country."
He denied China's presence in Djibouti means Djibouti's ties with the US are weakening.
"I think the US has actually accepted the fact that China is building facilities in Djibouti," Yin Gang, a deputy researcher at the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday.
No Western country or those from around the region have officially protested.
Yin believes that the facilities create possibilities for both countries to cooperate in anti-terrorism operations in the future.
Situated on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a gateway to the Suez Canal, Djibouti enjoys rare stability in an otherwise volatile region and provides a vital port for landlocked Ethiopia. Its proximity to restive regions in the Middle East and Africa makes it a preferred location for foreign military bases.
Yin said China and the US will continue to compete for influence in Africa.
He noted that some Chinese firms need to improve their practices, as they face criticism for extracting resources without giving enough attention to environmental concerns, or for not hiring more locals.
China is Africa's largest trading partner with trade exceeding $220 billion in 2014.
On a national scale, China has vowed to share a common destiny of prosperity and adversity with Africa. Chinese President Xi Jinping announced four key points which define the country's Africa policy during his visit to the continent in 2013, including helping safeguard African peace and stability, facilitating the continent's economic development and a level participation in international affairs.