U.S. Wary of Its New Neighbor in Djibouti: A Chinese Naval Base - ( P 2)
Posted Date: Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Capt. Liu Jianzhong, a former political commissar of a Chinese destroyer plying the Gulf of Aden, said the lack of a dedicated port in the region took a toll on personnel forced to spend long stretches at sea.
“For six months, we didn’t reach the shore, and a lot of sailors had physical and psychological problems,” he told the state-run China Military Online. To that end, the new base will include a gym, the ministry said.
Professor Dutton said Beijing would most likely try to “acclimatize” the world by using the facility for commercial purposes when it begins operating this year and then gradually increase the number and variety of warships that dock there.
“It will be relatively incremental in the forward deployment of naval power. You are not going to see a Yokosuka,” he said, referring to the base for the United States Seventh Fleet in Japan.
In its written answers, the ministry said that China was not budging from its “defensive” military policy and that the base did not indicate an “arms race or military expansion.”
In recent years, China has moved aggressively to increase its power projection capabilities through the rapid modernization of its navy. Military spending has soared, with Beijing’s defense budget expected to reach $233 billion by 2020, more than all Western European countries combined, and double the figure from 2010, according to Jane’s Defense Weekly. In 2016, the United States spent more than $622 billion on the military, Jane’s said.
These days, Chinese naval vessels, including nuclear submarines, roam much of the globe, from contested waters of the Yellow Sea to Sri Lanka and San Diego.
China’s decision to establish an overseas military installation comes as little surprise to those who have watched Beijing steadily jettison a decades-old principle of noninterference in the affairs of other countries.
The shift is an outgrowth of China’s evolution from an impoverished slumbering introvert to deep-pocketed mercantilist with economic interests across the globe.
Half of China’s oil imports sail through the Mandeb Strait, the choke point off Djibouti that connects the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. Across Africa, state-owned companies are investing tens of billions of dollars in railways, factories and mines.
And the millions of Chinese citizens who live and work overseas have come to expect that the government will look out for their interests — a point driven home in recent years when Beijing was forced to rescue Chinese nationals from strife-torn Libya and Yemen.
“The facility in Djibouti is a very interesting lens through which to view China’s growing capabilities and ambitions,” said Andrew S. Erickson, an expert at China’s maritime transformation at the Naval War College and the editor of the book “Chinese Naval Shipbuilding.”
“Not only will it give them a huge shot in the arm in terms of naval logistics, but it will also strengthen China’s image at home and abroad.”
A low-rise encampment built adjacent to a new Chinese-owned commercial port, the 90-acre base is designed to house up to several thousand troops and will include storage structures for weapons, repair facilities for ships and helicopters, and five berths for commercial ships and one for military vessels.
At the base’s front gate recently, Chinese workers in construction helmets waved away a reporter who tried to ask questions. China’s Defense Ministry declined a request to tour the site.
American officials say they were blindsided by Djibouti’s decision, announced last year, to give China a 10-year lease for the land. Just two years earlier, Susan Rice, the national security adviser under President Barack Obama, had flown here to head off a similar arrangement with Russia.