WASHINGTON — China is negotiating a military base in the strategic port of Djibouti, raising the prospect of US and Chinese bases in the tiny Horn of Africa nation — and the latest example of China exerting its military muscle.
“There’s a much larger story, and this is emblematic,” said Alex Sullivan, an Asia-Pacific analyst at the Center for a New American Security. “China is becoming more active in international security affairs than at any time in the history of the People’s Republic because they have an increasing global interest.
“Barring drastic unforeseen change in China itself, this is the new normal,” Sullivan said.
Djibouti is already home to Camp Lemonnier, the US military headquarters on the continent, used for covert, anti-terrorism and other operations in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere across Africa. It is the only permanent US base on the continent.
“Discussions are ongoing,” President Ismail Omar Guelleh told Agence France-Presse in an interview in Djibouti, saying Beijing’s presence would be “welcome.”
Guelleh’s comments came in a week that saw a deal between Russia and China for procurement of the new S-400 air defense system and tensions between the US and China over Beijing’s massive land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea. Yet the week also saw a rare visit by the command ship Blue Ridge, the flagship of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, to Zhanjiang, the base of China’s South Sea Fleet.
As for Africa, China is already financing several major infrastructure projects estimated to total more than $9 billion, including improved ports, airports and railway lines to landlocked Ethiopia, for whom Djibouti is a lifeline port.