December 11, 2015

China's bases in the Indian Ocean - New Djibouti Base

The European Union (EU) welcomed China's support against the Somalian pirate scourge.

In 2010 the Chief of Staff of European Union Naval Forces for Somalia (EUNAVFOR Somalia), …told reporters that China's decision to send PLA-N forces across the Indian Ocean to handle Somalian pirates was "extremely good news and will allow us to surge other assets into the Somali basin, where pirate activity remains at an all-time high."

Large Replenishment Ships, like the PLA-N’s Type 093A are an essential accompaniment to Chinese frigates, destroyers and (maybe) submarine anti-piracy activities in the Horn of Africa region (Photo courtesy CIMSEC).

Over recent years China has put varying arrangements in place to have some naval and/or air access to:

-  Hong Kong protected by PLA-N
-  Sanya Base, Hainan Island, China
-  Woody Island and Spratley Islands (in South China Sea)
-  Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, Cambodia (dual civilian - naval use)
-  plans for Kra Isthmus Canal in Thailand
-  Chittagong, Bangladesh
-  Hambantota, Sri Lanka
-  Marao, Maldives
-  Gwadar, Pakistan
-  NATO Libya intervention temporarily ejected China
-  Dili Harbour, Baucau airfield (both vulnerable to Chinese "investment"), East Timor
-  Lamu, Kenya
-  Port Sudan, Sudan
-  Port of Darwin, Australia (99 year lease) near rim of Indian Ocean
-  Djibouti (see below) 

China has various dual-use port arrangements with countries in the Indian Ocean that give Chinese civilian vessels and naval vessels some security. (Map courtesy CIMSEC)

As an example of China's consolidation in the Indian Ocean there is the base in Djibouti.

In 2015 China has been cementing its position in the tiny country of Djibouti (see left-center red dot on above map). France has long has bases in Djibouti and more recently the US opened a large (Camp Lemonnier) Base in strategic Djibouti. Djibouti provides China easy access to African - Middle East flashpoints.

His Excellency Mahamoud Ali Youssouf, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of Djibouti in Washington DC's, The HillDecember 10, 2015 has issued the following statement, which says in part:

"Djibouti values both China and US in East Africa":

China will have its first African naval logistics base by the end of 2017, in Djibouti, on one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors. The objective of this base will be to support the fight against piracy and terrorism, securing the Gulf of Aden alongside international forces from countries including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan.

…Over the past few years, China has been increasingly active in our region, working with the US and others as part of this anti-piracy alliance and in support of UN-mandated humanitarian and peacekeeping work across the continent.

Indeed, the Chinese navy has completed twenty missions in the Gulf of Aden, and Chinese naval vessels taking part in these operations use port facilities in Djibouti for supply and service.  In recent weeks, we have concluded a 10-year agreement with the government of China to establish a naval logistical hub in Djibouti to support these operations and make it easier for China to continue its important, burden-sharing role.

Some commentators have questioned our decision to allow China to establish this new naval base.  Our response is, we welcome China’s engagement with anti-piracy and humanitarian work in our region. It is an important contribution to the multilateral effort.  And we want to do what we can to facilitate it. We consider China to be another strategic ally, alongside the U.S. and other forces, in the fight against terrorism and piracy, which are significant threats to the international community and the global economy. See WHOLE STATEMENT at The Hill.


Like the US since 1898 China is projecting power into seas and oceans as this is important for strategic and trade reasons. 

The New York Times via Hamilton Spectator, November 26, 2015 reports in part

“Strategically, Djibouti offers an excellent place from which to protect oil imports from the Middle East that traverse the Indian Ocean on their way to China, military experts say. From Djibouti, China gains greater access to the Arabian Peninsula.

The U.S. military has praised China's participation in the international anti-piracy operations, which protect vital commercial shipping in a volatile part of the world. 

Shen Dingli, a professor of international relations at Fudan University in Shanghai, who has argued vigorously that China should develop bases commensurate with its growing military power, said Thursday that in doing so, China would only be doing what America had done. "The United States has been expanding its business all around the world and sending its military away to protect those interests for 150 years," Shen said. "Now, what the United States has done in the past, China will do again."

Shen, who referred to the planned facility in Djibouti as a "base," said it was necessary because "we need to safeguard our own navigational freedom," 

[China needs] to protect 1 to 2 million Chinese citizens living in Africa. This year, China's navy evacuated several hundred Chinese citizens and foreign nationals from war-torn Yemen, routing them through Djibouti for their journeys home.

In a recent paper for the National Defense University in Washington, Christopher D. Yung, an expert on China's military, argued that the country was intent on shouldering more international responsibilities involving its military and in turn would need "dual-use facilities" that could accommodate commercial and military operations.

Until now, he wrote, China had relied on commercial aircraft and ships to maintain its anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, but they were expensive and inadequate for the Chinese navy. "China needs to expand beyond its current temporary bases," Yung wrote.

Cutaway and weapons (including up to 36 land attack cruise missiles) of Chinese PLA-N Type 052C destroyer. 052s have been used on anti-piracy patrols in the Indian Ocean. (Courtesy Pakistani defence forum)