Ships carrying Chinese troops are en route Djibouti to set up Beijing’s first overseas military base, according to state media.
China said the support base will be used for peacekeeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and West Asia. It will also be used for military co-operation, naval exercises and rescue missions, Xinhua said.
China has ramped up investment in Africa, as well as rapidly modernised its military in recent years.
The report did not specify the number of troops or ships that departed for Djibouti, nor when the base would start operations, although construction started last year following what it terms as ‘friendly negotiations.’
The base is widely seen as a move by China to stake its military presence in the region. A recent report in the state-run Global Times said that the “essential purpose of China’s development of its military might is to protect ‘China’s safety’, and is not about seeking to control the world”.
The newspaper pointed out that the US, Japan and France also have military bases in Djibouti.
Djibouti, a tiny country at the Horn of Africa, is favoured for its location as it sits near a busy shipping route. It is also seen as a stable country in an otherwise volatile region.
In 2015, at a major summit with African nations, China pledged to invest $60bn in Africa’s development. As the continent’s largest trading partner, it has poured in funds and manpower for numerous infrastructural projects.
Many of them are railways linking up African countries, including one that connects Djibouti with the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, as well as railways in Angola, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia.
In return, Africa supplies China with natural resources, minerals and energy.